With Lions coach Matt Patricia vowing on Thursday to “clear my name” but with no specifics provided in order to come to the detached, unbiased conclusion that Patricia was falsely accused of aggravated sexual assault in 1996, reporters will now attempt to fill in the gaps by uncovering forgotten or previously unknown facts. The process already has begun.
According to Tresa Baldas of the Detroit Free Press, police in South Padre Island, Texas have begun searching files in storage manually in an effort to locate a paper copy of the police report.
Currently available documents, per Baldas, show that the alleged victim received treatment on the evening of the alleged incident at Valley Regional Medical Center in Brownsville, Texas. Matt Patricia and Greg Dietrich were arrested that same night, and they were indicted by a grand jury four months later.
The case was due to go to trial on October 21, 1997. The prosecution’s witnesses included (beyond the alleged victim) a nurse, a doctor, a police detective, a police officer, and a friend of the alleged victim. Obviously, however, prosecutors did not believe that a conviction could have been obtained without the testimony of the alleged victim, who chose not to testify, citing the stress of a trial.
The Free Press reports that, although a medical examination occurred of the alleged victim, it’s unknown whether DNA samples were obtained from the defendants.
The search for more facts will continue, with the key question being whether the alleged victim will choose to tell her story now, and then whether her story seems credible and persuasive. If that happens, Patricia may have to do something more than generally state that he is innocent.
Again, he may be. Absent proof to the contrary, he’s entitled to the presumption of innocence and the benefit of the doubt. But if there’s contrary proof, professional journalists will be looking for it.
And that’s really what journalism in sports is, or at least should be. The vast majority of the “reports” that emerge every single day amount to advance notice (often as brief as a matter of minutes) of a transaction that is about to be announced by a team or the league office. True journalism entails finding out things that otherwise aren’t known, and won’t be.
Although Lions receiver Golden Tate has objected to the fact that the 22-year-old incident has become a story, Patricia is a public figure whose life is and will be, to a certain extent, an open book. A criminal prosecution for felony sexual assault is a matter of public record, no different (but much more serious) than property transactions, divorce paperwork, and death certificates.
The fact that the Lions didn’t know about the incident before hiring Patricia creates added interest, and his decision to address the situation publicly with a general denial but no specifics opens the door to a search for more.
If it’s a false accusation, Patricia actually should welcome the opportunity for the facts to come out now. “While I’m thankful on one level that the process worked and the case was dismissed, at the same time I was never given the opportunity to defend myself or to allow to push back with the truth to clear my name,” Patricia said Thursday.
Professing innocence into a vacuum of facts doesn’t clear anyone’s name. Proof does. The search for specific proof continues, in part because Patricia and the Lions have declined so far to provide any.