The Detroit Lions suddenly have an issue to address regarding new coach Matt Patricia.
Patricia was indicted for sexual assault in 1996, according to a Wednesday report by Robert Snell of the Detroit News.
The case never came to trial, so Patricia has no criminal record, but it was significant enough that the Lions and Patricia offered statements Wednesday night in response to the report.
The alleged incident took place while Patricia, who was 21 at the time, and Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute teammate and fraternity brother Greg Dietrich, then 22, were on spring break at South Padre Island, Texas.
According to the News report, based on court records and a news account at the time, a 21-year-old woman told police that both men came into her hotel room and “took turns violently sexually assaulting her.”
Both men were charged by a grand jury with one count of aggravated sexual assault.
The case was dismissed in January 1997, because the alleged victim did not want to undergo the stress of a trial, according to the News.
One of Patricia’s defense attorneys, Jeff Wilson, told the paper that he thought the woman’s story was a fabrication and that his client “vehemently” denied he did anything wrong.
When first approached by Snell to comment on the report, Lions team president Rod Wood said, “I don’t know anything about this.”
Later, however, Wood told Snell, “I am very comfortable with the process of interviewing and employing Matt. 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.”
Later Wednesday, the Lions issued a joint statement from owner Martha Firestone Ford, general manager Bob Quinn, and Wood:
“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,” the statement said. “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.”
Patricia also issued and statement and claimed he was innocent.
“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. “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.”