Matt Patricia, who was hired as head coach of the Detroit Lions in January, was on the defensive Wednesday night after a local media outlet published a lengthy report detailing an unproven sexual assault allegation against him.
Twenty-two years ago, Patricia, then a student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, was arrested in the assault of another spring breaker at a hotel on South Padre Island in Texas, Robert Snell of The Detroit News reported.
The description of the alleged attack is horrifying.
“On the evening of March 15, 1996, the woman told police that two men burst into the upscale hotel room where she was sleeping and took turns violently sexually assaulting her, according to court records and a news account at the time,” Snell wrote. “They were arrested, charged and later indicted by a grand jury on one count of aggravated sexual assault — but they never stood trial and were not convicted.”
The accused were Patricia, who was 21 at the time, and an RPI football teammate.
They never stood trial because the case was dismissed at the request of the woman, who was also 21.
Snell wrote that the woman “did not respond to multiple attempts to contact her over several weeks.”
Despite the fact that the case was dropped, he wrote that “the relevance of even old and untried charges raises questions for the Lions at the height of the ‘Me Too’ movement, which has brought new scrutiny to sexual misconduct allegations.”
Patricia disagrees. He issued a statement through the team strongly asserting his innocence.
“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,” he said. “I firmly maintain my innocence, as I have always done.
“I would never condone any of the behavior that was alleged and will always respect and protect the rights of anyone who has been harassed or is the victim of violence. My priorities remain the same — to move forward and strive to be the best coach, teacher, and man that I can possibly be.”
The Lions organization stood by its coach.
“Responding to a published report this evening from the Detroit News, The Detroit Lions are aware that a criminal charge involving sexual assault was brought against Matt Patricia in 1996,” team owner Martha Firestone Ford, general manager Bob Quinn and president Rod Wood said in a joint statement. “Matt was 21 at the time and on spring break in Texas. The charge was dismissed by the prosecutor at the request of the complaining individual prior to trial. As a result, Coach Patricia never had the opportunity to present his case or clear his name publicly in a court of law. He has denied that there was any factual basis for the charge. There was no settlement agreement with the complaining individual, no money exchanged hands and there was no confidentiality agreement. In discussions today with Lions management, the reporter involved acknowledged that the allegations have not been substantiated.
“As an organization, The Detroit Lions take allegations regarding sexual assault or harassment seriously. Coach Patricia was the subject of a standard pre-employment background check which did not disclose this issue. We have spoken to Coach Patricia about this at length as well as the attorney who represented him at the time. Based upon everything we have learned, we believe and have accepted Coach Patricia’s explanation and we will continue to support him. We will continue to work with our players and the NFL to further awareness of and protections for those individuals who are the victims of sexual assault or violence.”
The NFL said Thursday it will review the allegations with the team.
Before joining the Lions, Patricia was a longtime assistant to New England coach Bill Belichick. The Patriots have not responded to questions about whether they were aware of the allegations against him.
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