King County Sheriff John Urquhart blames the NFL for failing to work hard enough to obtain information about the Josh Brown case. The NFL blames the Sheriff’s office for failing to cooperate with its efforts.
The truth, as usual, lives somewhere in the middle, with both sides bearing blame for the NFL’s lack of information at the time Brown initially was suspended only one game. Ultimately, however, the league’s lack of appropriate diligence resulted in the discipline being imposed based on incomplete facts.
Allow me to explain. (As if you have a vote in the matter.)
The materials released by the King County Sheriff’s department earlier this week show that, indeed, the NFL tried to gather information about the case. A woman named Deborah Katz called Josh Brown’s ex-wife, Molly, on June 3, 2015. (The document says 2016, but that apparently is a typo, based on the full context of the report.)
“Molly told me that she had a very limited conversation with the woman and told her that she did not want to speak to her about any of this,” wrote Detective Robin Ostrum of the King County Sheriff’s office. “Molly told me that if it truly was someone from the NFL calling her, she would not trust them to really be having her or her children’s best interest in mind. Molly states that the NFL would only be looking to bury this whole incident and protect Josh. I told Molly that she was under no obligation to talk to this woman, or discuss with anyone that might try to contact her, the nature of the investigation. I told Molly if she wanted, I would call this woman and ask that she not call her anymore; Molly stated that she would appreciate if I would do that.”
Ostrum then explained in the report that she contacted Deborah Katz, who “started pressing me for information on this case.” Ostrum said she would not discuss the case, explaining it was an “open and active investigation.”
“Deborah tried to ingratiate herself to me by telling me she was once a Prosecutor for the State of New York,” Ostrum wrote. “I told Deborah that if that was true, then she should know that I would not discuss an open and active investigation with her. Deborah then asked me why I was saying there was an open and active investigation if the Prosecutor’s Office dropped the charges. I explained to Deborah that the Prosecutor’s Office had not ‘dropped’ the charges against Josh, they had simply chosen not to ‘file’ charges at this time, pending further investigation into this matter, which I was doing.
“I clearly informed Deborah that depending on the outcome of my investigation, the Prosecutor’s Office could still file charges against Josh. Deborah stated that she would call me back from time to time to check on the status of my investigation. Over the next several months I did receive several phone calls from Deborah that [resulted] in the same thing, me telling her I would not discuss my open and active investigation with her. When that didn’t seem to be getting the NFL anywhere, they had a Detective from another local law enforcement agency, who apparent also works as a representative for the NFL, call me and try to get information from me on my investigation. I told him the same thing that I had discussed with Deborah, that I would not share information with him, or discuss my open and active investigation with him.”
The NFL, as noted by senior V.P. of communications Natalie Ravitz on Twitter, also submitted a formal request for public records, apparently on May 26, 2015. The response, along with the public records, finally arrived on October 19, 2016. This explains why media reports regarding the details of the records appeared that same day; others had made a request for public records, and the requests we all filled on the same say.
While it’s clear that the NFL did something to find out more about the allegations and evidence against Brown, the NFL didn’t do enough. It’s one thing to call the same person over and over again and say, “Are you ready to talk about the case?” It’s quite another to employ creative, aggressive, and relentless measures to get around, through, above, or under a stone wall and get to the truth.
Whether it’s contacting the sheriff directly to explain the importance of obtaining more information about the case, pushing Brown, his agents, and his lawyers to pressure law enforcement to conclude the case and release the information, or ultimately threatening to place Brown on the Commissioner’s-Exempt list until the case is closed and the information is obtained, the NFL could have and should have, when faced with that stone wall, done something other than repeatedly bang its head against it.
Law enforcement bears blame as well, given that the investigation languished for more than 14 months, with the case finally closed on September 14, 2016. The timeline suggests that the case fell into a black hole and that, after the league suspended Brown for one game, media inquiries resulted in the case being dusted off and concluded.
That’s unacceptable from a law-enforcement perspective, but it’s hardly unprecedented. Still, the fact that media agitation caused the Sheriff’s office to complete its work proves that the NFL could have pushed the investigation to a conclusion much sooner, with the right approach.
And so the NFL imposed discipline on Josh Brown based solely on information provided by him, without the benefit of the final report or the various attachments that demonstrate a pattern of physical, mental, and emotional abuse. Faced with the choice as to whether the outcome arose from incompetence or design, the safer bet is incompetence, because anyone with an ounce of common sense had to know that, eventually, the investigation would be concluded and a report would be generated for public consumption.
Apart from the league’s decision to suspend Josh Brown for one game based on incomplete facts, these details make the team’s decision to re-sign Brown earlier this year even more confusing. All the Giants had to say was, “Josh, if you don’t find a way to get that investigation finally closed so that the information can be reviewed, we just can’t hire you again.”
Again, this outcome suggests more incompetence than design. Unless, of course, the incompetence flowed not from the efforts to obtain the necessary information but from the belief that the team would be able to brush this matter under the rug and that no one would ever know or care about the truth, especially since it involves a kicker.