Ray Rice: Why did the NFL need a video to show the obvious?

Opinion, NakedLaw, News, Sports

In agonizing, graphic detail, the Ray Rice domestic violence plays out before us, forcing us to stare down a reality some would rather deny.

We’ve known since February 2014 that he punched his then fiancé Janay Palmer in an Atlantic City casino. At that time the first video was released, of Ray dragging a fallen Janay from the elevator, exhibiting no surprise at what he’d done, no concern that she might be dead, not checking her pulse or breath as he pulled on her limp, lifeless body. We didn’t see what happened inside the elevator, but the clip was stomach-churning enough. Ray Rice admitted he had hit her and caused her injury.

‘Felony aggravated assault’ earns slap on the wrist

The only legal defense for slugging anyone to unconsciousness is self-defense. Given Ray’s stature as a strong professional football player, she would have had to come at him with a knife or gun for this behavior to be legally justified. He never claimed that. Hence, the violence was an assault.

But no “eye for an eye” sense of retributive or deterrent justice followed. He punched her out; in return, the authorities gave him a slap on the wrist. The NFL doled out a mild two game suspension, far less than players get for marijuana use. Local prosecutors, ignoring the dangerous level of violence involved, gave him a sweet deal of pre-trial diversion which includes counseling but no jail time. This after a grand jury indicted him for felony aggravated assault. If he successfully completes the program, and honestly, he’d be a fool not to, the charges will be dropped and his record expunged.

The video changes no facts

This week TMZ.com, the celebrity site that pays for stories and videos, obtained the security footage of what happened inside the elevator, which should have already been obvious. Very appropriate public outrage spurred the Baltimore Ravens to terminate Ray Rice the same day. Why did it take TMZ’s video post to do that?

My most re-tweeted post this week was:

Lisa Bloom @LisaBloom

Ray Rice case lesson: if you’re rich and you punch a woman unconscious, no big deal unless there’s a video.

The elevator video does not change any facts. He punched her to unconsciousness. That was known in February. What did change was the vivid representation of his swinging at her, hitting her squarely, her sudden drop, his then pulling her nonresponsive, frighteningly lifeless form into the casino.

An unknown woman in the casino, presumably a stranger to the couple, came to Janay’s aid. On the video at least, Ray never did.

What kind of fantasy world did police (who initially charged her as well as him, though she’d been knocked out and he was unscathed), prosecutors, and the NFL live in before this video? What kind of contorted thinking did they engage in? Is there some other scenario that integrates his admission to hitting her, her unconsciousness, his callous behavior toward her afterwards caught on camera and witnessed by passersby?

Why did the NFL need TMZ to do its investigation for it? It could not possibly have been unaware that casinos have cameras everywhere, especially in elevators. The hotel says the NFL never asked for the elevator video. The NFL says it requested all information from law enforcement, who never turned over the video.

Maybe. But why not go straight to the source when dealing with a matter this important? One probable answer is that the NFL did not really want to see what that video would have to depict, and certainly did not want it publicly released, a possibility that would be more likely the more people had access to it. The NFL wanted to go on with business as usual. It was more concerned with its own PR than a battered woman.

Compassion, not judgment for victims

It hurts to look at every aspect of this case: first and foremost, the awful violence of Ray’s punch to Janay, but also her decision to stand by him, to apologize herself at the press conference, her choice to marry him the day after the grand jury returned a felony assault indictment against him, and her statement this week blaming the media for her nightmare.

Surely as a culture we know enough about domestic violence victims to understand Battered Women’s Syndrome, and if you don’t, please check out the powerful voices of survivors tweeting at #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft this week, such as:

Doree Anne @doree_anne 

My girls needed a father, #whyistayed. My girls needed a mother, #whyileft.

As she navigates through this painful time, Janay deserves only compassion, not judgment, from the rest of us. As they sort through difficult choices, domestic violence victims are so often hampered by the physical and mental health consequences of their abuse. She deserves ready, safe access to social services such as housing, legal support and counseling if and when she’s ready to access them for herself and their poignantly named daughter, Rayven.

Prosecutors, NFL must be held accountable

In the meantime, our attention should be on the public representatives who failed in this case. Prosecutors must be held accountable for their failure to throw the book at batterer Ray Rice.

Surely they had the video. If police did not get it, they are not worthy of being called investigators. If they did, then, worse: law enforcement closed their eyes to the horror of extreme violence against a woman given the celebrity status of the defendant and the non-celebrity status of the victim.

That Janay did not want to prosecute is aggravatingly common in domestic violence cases, so common that cops and lawyers are trained in how to deal with it, and policies and procedures are in place for that eventuality.

Where there is corroborative evidence beyond the victim’s testimony, for example, these cases can and do go forward. Why? Because an assault like this is a crime against The People, not just the victim. Her preference is taken into account but is not dispositive. And there is no stronger proof than a video like this one.

In addition, the testimony of the security guards and casino guests who saw Ray pull Janay out of the elevator and heard his statements would all be admissible. They had plenty of evidence to work with if they wanted to go forward. Instead, they punted.

Finally, the NFL must explain why it took a video and public shaming to wake them up to what they should have already known. A Penn State-style investigation — the scorching type that went down after the school’s high-level cover-up of child sexual abuse by Jerry Sandusky — should be done by a reputable, independent party, top to bottom, to find out what the NFL knew, when they knew it and how they so colossally blew this.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Avvo.

Photo: Shutterstock

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