The Detroit Lions organization said Wednesday night that it stands behind recently hired head coach Matt Patricia after a newspaper reported that he was indicted for sexual assault in 1996 but never prosecuted.
The NFL team said the matter never came up during a “standard pre-employment background check” that it says it conducted before hiring the former New England Patriots assistant coach after last season ended.
According to the Detroit News, Patricia, then 21 years old, and a friend of his, then 22, were indicted 22 years ago by a Texas grand jury, on one count each of aggravated sexual assault for an alleged incident involving a woman on South Padre Island.
The accuser did not testify and the case was dismissed 10 months later.
The News said it tried multiple times to contact the woman for a comment, but she did not respond.
The newspaper added that many details about the case were unclear, because the police report has been discarded, and the police chief, grand jury forewoman, assistant prosecutor and defense attorneys all told the newspaper they could not recall the case, which was covered in Texas media at the time.
Patricia and his attorney both accused the woman of lying.
“As someone who was falsely accused of this very serious charge over 22 years ago, and never given the opportunity to defend myself and clear my name, I find it incredibly unfair, disappointing, and frustrating that this story would resurface now with the only purpose being to damage my character and reputation,” Patricia said in a statement issued by the Lions. “I firmly maintain my innocence, as I have always done.”
“I find it incredibly unfair, disappointing, and frustrating that this story would resurface now with the only purpose being to damage my character and reputation.”
“In my opinion, it was a fabrication,” attorney Jeff Wilson added. “I’m telling you it was a ‘he said, she said.’ I don’t know what type of problems the girl was having; I don’t know why she made that allegation. We vehemently denied that he was doing anything wrong or did anything wrong.”
Wilson told the News that the woman failed to show up in court on the day that jury selection was set to begin – the Monday after the Super Bowl in January 1997.
Court records indicate that the woman requested that the case be dismissed, court records show, according to the News.
According to the Detroit News, Lions president Rod Wood initially denied knowing about the 1996 case, but later said he reviewed the case and stood behind the team’s decision to hire Patricia.
“I am very comfortable with the process of interviewing and employing Matt,” Wood told the News. “I will tell you with 1,000-percent certainty that everything I’ve learned confirmed what I already knew about the man and would have no way changed our decision to make him our head coach.”
The Lions also issued a joint statement attributed to Wood, owner Martha Firestone Ford and team general manager Bob Quinn.
“We have spoken to Coach Patricia about this at length as well as the attorney who represented him at the time,” statement said. “Based upon everything we have learned, we believe and have accepted Coach Patricia’s explanation and we will continue to support him.”
The Lions hired Patricia to replace Jim Caldwell as coach.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.