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Lions, Coach Matt Patricia won’t be punished by NFL for 1996 sexual assault arrest

Matt Patricia strongly denied any wrongdoing in a news conference this month. (Carlos Osorio/Associated Press)

Neither the Detroit Lions nor their new coach, Matt Patricia, will face discipline from the NFL related to his 1996 arrest for sexual assault, which surfaced about three months after the team hired him in February. The league said Monday it had determined that the Lions were not at fault for failing to turn up the arrest during their hiring process and that Patricia had not attempted to “mislead” anyone while being interviewed for the job.

The incident occurred well before Patricia, a former assistant with the New England Patriots, first worked in the NFL, and thus it was not set for review under the league’s personal conduct policy. However, the NFL launched a probe into the 43-year-old’s hiring after the Lions learned of the 1996 arrest earlier this month from a reporter for the Detroit News.

Patricia was indicted on a charge of aggravated sexual assault, as was a then-teammate on the football squad at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, after an alleged incident at South Padre Island, Tex., during spring break. The case was dropped after several months when their accuser declined to testify, with a court document from January 1997 indicating she “does not feel she can face the pressures or stress of a trial.”

In a news conference following the emergence of the news earlier this month, Patricia strongly denied any wrongdoing on his part, saying, “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.” The first-time head coach told reporters that he had “lived with the mental torture of a situation where facts can be completely ignored or misrepresented with disregard for the consequences and pain it would create for another person.”

The Lions supported their coach, noting in a statement that because the charge “was dismissed by the prosecutor at the request of the complaining individual prior to trial,” Patricia “never had the opportunity to present his case or clear his name publicly in a court of law.” Team President Rod Wood told the Detroit News that the Lions’ background check “was limited to employment matters only and does not disclose any criminal matters that don’t result in a conviction or a plea agreement.”

“Our office reviewed the matter with the Lions and Mr. Patricia, and ensured the club engaged in appropriate and thorough hiring practices and that the coach did not mislead the team during the interview process,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Monday in a statement. “We determined that the Lions handled the interview process in a thoughtful and comprehensive manner and fully and appropriately complied with all applicable employment laws. As we learned from both Mr. Patricia and the Lions, the matter was not part of his employment interview process for job opportunities outside of or within the NFL.”

Patriots Coach Bill Belichick had also offered a public statement of support for his longtime former assistant, saying that over 14 years with New England, “Matt conducted himself with great integrity and is known to be an outstanding coach, person and family man.” Belichick added that his team has “always been confident in Matt’s character and recommended him highly to become the head coach of the Detroit Lions.”

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