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NFL defends its Kareem Hunt investigation, says it won’t start paying for video

The NFL is defending its investigation of former Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith, File)

IRVING, Tex. — The NFL defended its investigation of former Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt, with one of the league’s top investigative officials saying Wednesday that the league office did not repeat the mistakes made in the Ray Rice case in 2014.

B. Todd Jones, the NFL’s special counsel for conduct, said the league wanted to have a more complete understanding of the case before interviewing Hunt about a February incident in which video showed him shoving and kicking a woman in a Cleveland hotel.

Jones also said that the NFL is unlikely to begin paying confidential sources to obtain video such as the one released by TMZ in the Hunt case, contending that such a tactic would be “mercenary” and “opens up a Pandora’s box” of unsavory possibilities.

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“I take issue with the fact that things were repeated, because they weren’t repeated,” Jones said, speaking to reporters during a break in an owners’ meeting at a Dallas-area hotel. “This is not the situation in 2014, other than the fact that there was a video that was disclosed late in the game. We did learn lessons from 2014.

“We did request, as I said before, that video up front. We were aware that it was there and couldn’t get it. And somebody made the decision for monetary decisions to sell it to TMZ, and that’s unfortunate. Once it’s released, then of course we reopened the investigation and it’s ongoing. There’s been no discipline imposed yet and the investigation is not complete.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell also said it is “not appropriate” for the NFL to pay for video evidence.

“We’re not going to do it by corrupting people or trying to find a way to bribe anybody to get this video,” he said. “That’s not what we do.”

The NFL placed Hunt on the commissioner’s exempt list and the Chiefs released him after the TMZ video became public. Hunt, who has not been charged with a crime, is facing a potential suspension without pay by the NFL under its personal conduct policy.

Advocacy groups and other observers have been critical of the league’s investigative approach, calling it reminiscent of the one that the NFL took in the Rice case. Then, the league initially suspended Rice for only two games for an incident in which he struck his fiancee in a hotel elevator in Atlantic City. After TMZ released video of the incident, the league suspended Rice indefinitely and the Ravens cut him. The indefinite suspension later was overturned on appeal, but Rice has not played in the NFL since.

In the Hunt case, the NFL said it opened its investigation in February. But it was unable to obtain the video or to convince the women involved in the incident to agree to be interviewed. Some observers have criticized the league for failing to interview Hunt about the February incident.

“People in the business sort of understand that you don’t sit down with the suspect until you have a little fuller handle on the facts, because you’ve got to be able to ask intelligent questions of them beyond, ‘Were you there and did you do anything?’” Jones said. “So I think the sequencing of the interviews was appropriate given the level of the information that we had at the time then.”

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Members of the league’s investigative staff briefed the owners during Wednesday’s meeting. According to multiple people familiar with the situation, some owners have concerns about the controversy over the Hunt investigation and would like to revisit the issue of how the NFL conducts its investigations. Those owners would like to discuss possible improvements to limit future criticism and controversy, and possibly reconsider whether the NFL should be conducting such independent investigations at all.

However, Goodell said the league will be receptive to any possible means of bettering its investigations.

“We always look to see how we can improve on our investigative procedures,” Goodell said.

Jones, a former director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), said it would not be appropriate for the NFL to pay for surveillance video of players accused of criminal wrongdoing.

“I think that is not likely at all for a number of reasons,” he said, “not the least of which is you all [reporters] have a journalistic privilege. You all have First Amendment protections. You all can get information from sources and wrap it up in sort of like a ‘sources, confidentiality.’ We don’t have that luxury.

“And to become mercenary and pay for video opens up a Pandora’s box of all kinds of opportunities and things that may come to us from not just surveillance videos in public places or surveillance videos in residences, but you’re talking about the world of social media and everybody on a smartphone. [What] TMZ is in the business of doing is buying people’s smartphone [tips] for a fee, for service. And the NFL is not going to do that.”

The video in the Hunt case was released days after the Washington Redskins claimed linebacker Reuben Foster off waivers. Foster had been released by the San Francisco 49ers after being arrested in Tampa on a domestic violence charge. He is on paid leave on the commissioner’s exempt list and, like Hunt, facing a possible unpaid suspension under the personal conduct policy.

The policy was bolstered by the league and the owners in 2014. They set six games as the baseline suspension for a case in which a player is involved in an incident of domestic violence. And they empowered the NFL to conduct its own investigations in such cases.

“You’ve got two players who are not playing in the NFL right now,” Jones said. “We’ve had some serious allegations. And when we get information, we act on it …. But you all are in the information business, too. You know that there is information out there in this surveillance society that we can’t get when we need it. And when we get it, we act on it.”

Goodell declined to express a view on the Redskins’ decision to claim Foster, saying “teams make those decisions,” but defended the league’s overall response to the recent cases.

“I think what we’re doing as a league is extraordinary,” Goodell said. “We have, I think, some of the highest standards of any organization. We take it seriously. We have zero tolerance for violence against women. And as a league, I think we responded very quickly.”