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Evidence emerges of a botched investigation in Georgia

There’s a common misconception that prosecutors often are inclined to give high-profile suspects a pass.  If anything, the reverse is true; prosecutors realize that law enforcement has limited budgets and a broad mandate that includes the deterrence of crime.  By targeting folks who are famous, the deterrent effect has maximum impact.  Every phase of the proceedings receives widespread attention, creating an extended commercial for the justice system.

The reality is that the seeds of a big-name guy (or girl) getting a pass often are planted at the front lines, by the things police do, or fail to do.  The latest item from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette points out that several flaws in the investigation regarding the claim of sexual assault against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, which may have prevented the collection of potentially incriminating evidence — and that also would have given lawyer Ed Garland plenty of fodder for a jury finding of reasonable doubt.

Most glaringly, the police failed to seal the alleged crime scene, a five-foot-wide bathroom in the dark recesses of a Milledgeville, Georgia nightclub.  Per Jonathan D. Silver of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, roughly eight hours after the alleged incident, a janitor “scrubbed the sink, floor and toilet with Clorox and Pine-Sol.”  (Our guess is that it’s the first time the sink, floor, and toilet in question ever were scrubbed with Clorox and Pine-Sol.)  Not surprisingly, the eventual attempt to gather evidence from the bathroom yielded nothing, other than the delightful odor of Clorox and Pine-Sol masking the funk of a five-foot-wide bathroom in the dark recesses of a Milledgeville, Georgia nightclub.

Review of the available documents by Pitt law professor Alexander Lindsay, a former federal and state prosecutor, resulted in a conclusion that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation “worked the hell out of the case but it was muffed at the beginning.”

In response, Milledgeville police chief Woodrow Blue claims that it was “of no consequence” that the bathroom had not been sealed off.  (We can understand why he’d say that; we can’t understand why anyone would believe it.  Including Blue.)

Then there’s now-former Milledgeville police officer Jerry Blash, who posed for a picture with Roethlisberger before being asked by colleague Willie Goddard to look into the allegation of sexual assault.  Blash’s reports reflected that the alleged victim said she wasn’t raped.  The statements from the alleged victim and her friends, though having some internal consistencies that independently could have created reasonable doubt in the mind of a jury, were consistent as to the claim of non-consensual sex.

(In this regard, keep in mind that the rape kit turned up only trace evidence of male DNA, and insufficient amount to allow a sample from Roethlisberger to be compared to it.  That alone could have derailed a conviction, especially if Roethlisberger’s defense at trial was premised on the position that there was no sexual contact, consensual or otherwise.)  

At one point, Blash and the alleged victim “argued on the street with voices raised” regarding whether Blash would take a formal report, according to the alleged victim’s friends.  Said GBI special agent Ryan Carmichael, “Blash was frustrated because the victim could barely stand, and that pissed Blash off. . . .  The victim’s friends got on Blash’s nerves because he kept asking them were they back there
with her, and they said no.”

The article from Silver also points out just how close authorities came to securing an interview with Roethlisberger, a rare occurrence in criminal probes.  On March 8, investigators were negotiating with Garland the terms of a possible sit-down.  Garland was considering making Roethlisberger available if the authorities would first provide details of the allegations.  (Garland would say that he wanted this information to ensure that Roethlisberger didn’t inadvertently misrepresent indisputable facts not known to Garland; if Garland were being candid, he’d admit that he also wanted to be sure that his client didn’t intentionally misrepresent indisputable facts not known to Garland, either.  Put another way, Garland didn’t want Roethlisberger to unwittingly walk into a lie.)

It appeared that the swap would occur, but then district attorney Fred Bright informed a gathering of top prosecutors and investigators that he already had given the information to Garland.  (Apparently, Bright’s mentor was Gerald Poindexter.)

None of this means that Roethlisberger did what the alleged victim claims he did.  But it shows just how hard it would have been to get a conviction under the very high standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.  And given that the alleged victim’s family was leery of the Milledgeville police department — and possibly resigned to the fact that the alleged victim’s version of the events never would be vindicated in a court of law — it’s not surprising that the alleged victim opted not to proceed, especially if at some point between March 5 and March 17 she received a confidential financial offer aimed at securing a full release of all claims she could make against Roethlisberger.
 
The justice system has one fundamental purpose:  the pursuit of truth.  In this case, the truth will never be fully known, due to the apparent actions and inactions of authorities, the bungling of the opportunity to talk to Roethlisberger, and the eventual decision that, given the holes in the investigation, no jury would ever reject Ed Garland’s silver-tongued, “if it don’t fit you must acquit” call for a finding of “reasonable doubt,” the two words that have kept many truly guilty men out of prison all in the hopes of ensuring that the innocents among us will never be thrown wrongfully in jail.

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Raiders claim kicker Giorgio Tavecchio off waivers from Detroit

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With Sebastian Janikowski currently dealing with a strained quadriceps that will keep him out of Thursday’s preseason finale against the Seattle Seahawks, the Oakland Raiders announced Tuesday they have claimed kicker Giorgio Tavecchio off waivers from the Detroit Lions.

Tavecchio, who played college football just a few miles away in Berkeley at the University of California, was waived by the Lions Monday as they trimmed their roster to the maximum 75 players.

Tavecchio has also spent time with the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers in training camp the prior two seasons. He was 1-for-2 on field goal attempts this preseason and converted both extra points he attempted.

To make room for Tavecchio, the Raiders released kicker Kevin Goessling. Tavecchio could be a hedge option for the Raiders in case Janikowski isn’t ready for the start of the season as well.

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Seahawks claim center Patrick Lewis off waivers from Jacksonville

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There has seemingly been a pipeline connecting the Jacksonville Jaguars and Seattle Seahawks since Gus Bradley left to become the head coach of the Jaguars last year.

However, that pipeline has predominantly flowed in one direction – from Seattle to Jacksonville – when it comes to picking up the cast-offs from the other team.

Seattle reversed the flow on Tuesday by claiming center Patrick Lewis off waivers from the Jaguars.

Lewis was an undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M in 2013 that initially signed with the Green Bay Packers. After being released, he was signed by the Cleveland Browns to their practice squad. He was then signed off the practice squad to Jacksonville’s active roster last December.

Lewis likely won’t find a way onto Seattle’s roster either as they appear set at center with starter Max Unger and backup Lemuel Jeanpierre. He could be a practice squad candidate following final cuts this weekend.

To make room on their roster, Seattle released linebacker Marcus Dowtin.

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CBA makes coaches, teams jointly responsible for offseason violations

Carroll AP

Some of you have asked why the NFL fined both the Seahawks and coach Pete Carroll for violating the rules prohibiting contact during offseason workouts.  It’s a new twist to the 2011 labor deal, which contains enhanced penalties for the team and the coach if/when offseason workouts result in contact.

Prior to 2011, the labor deal prohibited offseason contact, and a certain amount of it routinely was ignored.  Only in egregious cases would the league get involved, with teams losing one or more OTA days and fines rarely if ever imposed.

Carroll didn’t receive a fine when the Seahawks violated the rules two years ago, presumably under the portion of Article 21, Section 8 that allows the Commissioner to reduce or eliminate fines if the violation resulted from a good-faith interpretation of the rules or if the violation wasn’t “material.”

This time around, the Commissioner opted to fine Carroll more than $100,000 — but less than the $250,000 specified for a second offense.  The Seahawks were fined more than $200,000 for the second offense — but less than the $500,000 specified for a second offense.  This suggests that the Commissioner believed the certain circumstances justified a reduction in the fines contemplated by the CBA.

While the Seahawks reportedly have lost “at least two minicamp practices in 2015,” the rules contemplate the elimination not of minicamp practices but of a week of OTAs.  If two violations occur in the same league year, the team also loses a fourth-round draft pick.

Violations of the rules against offseason contact are inevitable, given that players are competing for roster spots and depth-chart position.  But the Seahawks have become the first team to receive a fine for violating offseason rules under the new CBA, and Carroll has become the first coach to personally be fined for an offseason workout violation.  Whatever happened was noteworthy, but also isolated.

Otherwise, the fines would have been much higher, and the Seahawks would have lost a fourth-round draft pick.

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Rams may not be able to slide Sam to practice squad

Sam Getty Images

The St. Louis Rams soon have a decision to make regarding seventh-round rookie defensive end Michael Sam.  In a Tuesday appearance on PFT Live, Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explained that Sam could still have a difficult time making the team, despite a couple of sacks in the preseason.

With the Rams destined to keep eight defensive lineman, Sam will be competing with Ethan Westbrooks, who arrived undrafted from West Texas A&M for the ninth spot.  If the Rams decide to carry 10 defensive lineman on the 53-man roster, Sam and Westbrooks will both stay.

As Rams G.M. Les Snead told PFT Live in May, the team used a late-round pick on Sam due to concerns that it would be difficult to persuade rookie defensive ends to choose to join a loaded depth chart via undrafted free agency.  Westbrook, to his credit, embraced the challenge.

As Peter King of TheMMQB.com pointed out on Tuesday, Sam could be destined for the practice squad.  To get to the practice squad, however, Sam would first have to clear waivers.  And there’s a good chance Sam has played well enough in the preseason to prompt a team with needs at the position to make a claim on Sam’s contract.

So, basically, all those 96 jerseys in blue and gold could soon be worthless.

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What a vas deferens a day makes for Saints QB Drew Brees

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For the length of his professional relationship with Sean Payton, no one has ever accused Saints quarterback Drew Brees of shooting blanks.

But after celebrating the birth of his fourth child — and first daughter — Brees joked that his days of leading a prolific, ahem, offense might be over.

Brees returned to practice Tuesday after his wife Brittany delivered their daughter Monday, and joked that the fourth kid might be the last.

“I think I’m done,” Brees said, via Larry Holder of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “I might have to follow Jim Henderson’s recommendation from the [New Orleans Touchdown Club] luncheon. … He was saying the ‘V’ word was next for me.

“Vasectomy. We’ve got some football games to win first. And then as I’ve been told by those who have experienced it, do it Saturday before the final round of The Masters so I’ve got an excuse to sit around and watch it.”

That might have been a bit more information than anyone needed, but then again, Brees was never in danger of getting cut this week anyway.

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Torrey Smith: I don’t think Meriweather should be suspended

smithmeriweather AP

Washington safety Brandon Meriweather is suspended for the first two games of the regular season for an illegal hit to Ravens receiver Torrey Smith. One person who doesn’t support the suspension is the player who bore the brunt of the illegal hit.

Smith wrote on Twitter that he doesn’t think Meriweather should have been suspended, although he hastened to add that he knows it’s not up to him.

“I don’t think he should be suspended,” Smith wrote, “but I don’t make or enforce the rules…I just play.”

It’s not uncommon for players to say they don’t want a fellow player punished, but in the case of Meriweather, the NFL really didn’t have much choice but to act. Meriweather has a long history of illegal hits to opponents’ heads, and fines don’t seem to deter him. A suspension was expected as soon as Meriweather delivered that hit, even if Smith didn’t think it was warranted.

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All 32 teams reach 75-player limit

Logan Mankins AP

The first of this week’s two big roster cutdown days has ended, and all NFL teams are down to the 75-player limit.

We’ve updated our NFL roster cuts tracker to give you one place to keep track of all the transactions that have been made in the NFL over the last couple of days.

There were no big surprises among today’s cuts. The biggest roster transaction of the day came when the Patriots traded guard Logan Mankins to Tampa Bay for tight end Tim Wright and a fourth-round pick. But that move didn’t have any bearing on the 75-man roster limit, as each team lost one player and gained one player.

Some surprises are likely to come on Saturday, when all NFL teams must reach the 53-player roster limit for the regular season. We’ll be tracking all of it right here.

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Packers put B.J. Raji on injured reserve, get down to 75

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Injury-related roster moves got the Packers down to 75 players on their roster before today’s deadline.

The biggest move related to veteran defensive lineman B.J. Raji, who was placed on injured reserve after suffering a torn bicep.

Five other Packers were placed on injured reserve along with Raji: WR Jared Abbrederis, T/G Don Barclay, RB Rajion Neal, LB Joe Thomas and G Andrew Tiller.

Raji, who started all 16 games last season and has missed just two starts in the last four years, will be the biggest loss of the bunch for the Packers.

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Jeff Tedford absent due to undisclosed health condition

Tedford AP

As the Buccaneers address one of their biggest questions on offense, a major question is swirling regarding the man who runs it.

Via JoeBucsFan.com, offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford is absent from the team after undergoing an undisclosed medical procedure.

The procedure went well,” coach Lovie Smith said. “He’s fine, alert, up.  Our staff will pull up the slack and we’ll go from there.”

Tedford won’t coach in the preseason finale.  For now, there’s no reason to think he won’t be available for Week One.

Whatever the condition, we extend our best wishes to Tedford as he recovers.

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Sam Bradford officially on IR as Rams reach 75-man limit

Sam Bradford AP

Not that there was any doubt, but now it’s official: Sam Bradford is out for the season.

Bradford, the Rams franchise quarterback who suffered a torn ACL in Saturday’s preseason game, has been officially placed on injured reserve.

Moving Bradford to IR was one of four roster moves the Rams made today to get down to the 75-player limit. St. Louis also waived DE Sammy Brown and S Matt Daniels and placed C Demetrius Rhaney on injured reserve.

For the Rams and Bradford, the question now is whether Bradford has played his last game in St. Louis. The enormous contract Bradford got as a first overall draft pick under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement means it’s inconceivable that he could be back under his current contract. It’s possible that Bradford could return to the Rams if he’s willing to take a big pay cut, but it’s also possible that Bradford and the Rams are done.

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Jaguars place Aaron Colvin on NFI, reduce roster to 75 players

Aaron Colvin AP

When the Jaguars drafted defensive back Aaron Colvin in the fourth round of May’s draft, they knew it would be some time before he’d be ready to help the team on the field.

Colvin tore his ACL during the Senior Bowl early this year, an injury that led him to slip to Jacksonville in the draft as well as to the non-football injury list on Tuesday. The Jaguars made the move, which bars Colvin from practicing or playing for at least the first six weeks of the season, to drop their roster to 75 players. Colvin must be activated by Week 11 to play this season.

“We are really pleased with Aaron’s progress throughout the offseason and preseason,” Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell said on the team’s website. “He has been dedicated to his rehab from day one and worked extremely hard with our training and strength staff every day. He played at a high level at Oklahoma and we feel strongly about what he will bring to our roster in the future. He will continue his rehab and we will make a decision on his playing status for 2014 at the appropriate time.”

If Colvin makes a full recovery, the Jaguars should have a useful piece for their secondary in 2015 and beyond.

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Report: Seahawks fined, stripped of minicamp days for violating no-contact practice rules

Pete Carroll

In 2012, the Seahawks were disciplined by the NFL for violating the league’s rules governing contact in offseason practices.

They were fined an undisclosed amount and stripped of two OTA practices for the violation, but that apparently didn’t stop them from crossing the league’s line again this year.When the Seahawks were punished in 2012, Carroll complained that it was unclear what constituted illegal contact during practices and the question has been raised by others during the last few off seasons as well.

Chris Mortensen of ESPN reports that the Seahawks and coach Pete Carroll have been collectively fined more than $300,000 for again violating the rule. Per Mortensen, Carroll was fined “at least” $100,000 and the Seahawks were fined more than $200,000. In addition, the team will lose two minicamp days during the 2015 offseason.

Like all the rules stemming from the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, the rule barring contact in offseason practices was agreed to by both the NFLPA and the league. NFLPA president Eric Winston is now a member of the Seahawks, but was not with the team in the offseason.

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PFT on NBCSN continues to get you ready for the 2014 regular season

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On Tuesday, NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk returns to a full hour in duration, and we’ll cover as much ground as we can in the allotted time.

Linebacker Jonathan Vilma joins the effort for the day, and the conversation will include a look at current NFL narratives and the inevitable reality of playoff turnover.

One of the narratives currently making its way through the league is that the defending NFC East champions will run away with the crown.  But we’d like some empirical proof of that.  So go ahead and answer the question below, and then tune in at 6:00 p.m. for a full hour of PFT on NBCSN.

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Texans cut three, get down to 75

boffeli AP

The Texans are the latest team to reach the 75-man roster limit.

On Tuesday the Texans cut three more players: OLB Paul Hazel, OL Conor Boffeli and WR Anthony McClung. Via John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, that puts them at the 75-man limit.

The Texans made most of their roster moves on Monday.

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Eagles waive-injured Julian Vandervelde to get to 75 players

Carolina Panthers v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

The Eagles didn’t delay making the bulk of their cuts to the 75-man limit, but held off on making their final move until Tuesday.

That move has been made. Offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde was waived-injured, dropping the team to 75 players ahead of the deadline to reach that level.

Vandervelde, who played 14 games last season, had back surgery earlier this summer and can revert to injured reserve if he goes unclaimed. Given his injury, that seems unlikely but it is unclear what future Vandervelde would have in Philadelphia. David Molk has taken over as the team’s backup center and done well in the role, taking away one of Vandervelde’s bigger selling points when he’s healthy.

The Eagles will now move on to paring the roster down to 53 players ahead of Saturday’s deadline to reach the regular season roster limit.

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