Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia denies 1996 assault allegation

Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia maintained his innocence on Thursday, one day after a story surfaced of an indictment from 1996 on a charge of aggravated sexual assault.

The Detroit News reported on Wednesday that a then-21-year-old Patricia and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute teammate Greg Dietrich were indicted 22 years ago by a Texas grand jury on one count each of aggravated sexual assault for an alleged incident involving a 21-year-old woman on South Padre Island (Texas).

The indictment never went to trial and the case was dismissed in January 1997, after the woman who made the accusation was “unable to testify and can not give a date certain when she will be available,” according to the dismissal paperwork, per ESPN. “Victim does not feel she can face the pressures or stress of a trial. Victim may request that the case be refiled at a later date.”

“I’m here to defend my honor and clear my name,” Patricia, 43, said on Thursday, reading from a prepared text. “Twenty-two years ago I was falsely accused of something very serious, very serious allegations. There were claims made about me that never happened. 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. This was something that was very traumatic to me when I was 21 years old, and once it was finally addressed, I tried to put it behind me.

“… I lived with the mental torture of a situation where facts can be completely ignored or misrepresented with disregard to the consequence and pain that it would create for another person. I find it unfair and upsetting that someone would bring up this claim over two decades later for the sole purpose of hurting my family, my friends, and this organization, with the intention of trying to damage my character and credibility. I was innocent then, and am innocent now.

“Let me be clear, my priorities remain the same. To move forward and strive to be the best teacher, coach, and man that I can possibly be.”

Patricia, who would not say if he had sex with the woman, said he did not volunteer the information during the interview process for the then-vacant head coaching position with Detroit.

The Lions claimed they did a standard employee background check on Patricia and the incident was not uncovered.

The NFL said on Thursday that it is looking into the situation. It does not fall under the personal conduct policy because the alleged incident happened years before Patricia entered the NFL.

“We will review the matter with the club to understand the allegations and what the club has learned,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told Pro Football Talk.

Patricia spoke behind a podium on Thursday with team owner Martha Ford, team president Rod Wood and general manager Bob Quinn sitting off to the side. The Lions’ brass did not take questions on Thursday.

When first approached by the Detroit News to comment on the report, Wood said, “I don’t know anything about this.”

Later, however, Wood told the newspaper, “I am very comfortable with the process of interviewing and employing Matt. I will tell you with 1,000-percent certainty that everything I’ve learned confirmed what I already knew about the man and would have no way changed our decision to make him our head coach.”

Later Wednesday, the Lions issued a joint statement from Ford, Quinn and Wood:

“Responding to a published report this evening from the Detroit News, the Detroit Lions are aware that a criminal charge involving sexual assault was brought against Matt Patricia in 1996,” the statement said. “Matt was 21 at the time and on spring break in Texas. The charge was dismissed by the prosecutor at the request of the complaining individual prior to trial. As a result, Coach Patricia never had the opportunity to present his case or clear his name publicly in a court of law. He has denied that there was any factual basis for the charge. There was no settlement agreement with the complaining individual, no money exchanged hands and there was no confidentiality agreement. In discussions today with Lions management, the reporter involved acknowledged that the allegations have not been substantiated.

“As an organization, the Detroit Lions take allegations regarding sexual assault or harassment seriously. Coach Patricia was the subject of a standard pre-employment background check which did not disclose this issue. We have spoken to Coach Patricia about this at length as well as the attorney who represented him at the time. Based upon everything we have learned, we believe and have accepted Coach Patricia’s explanation and we will continue to support him. We will continue to work with our players and the NFL to create further awareness of and protections for those individuals who are the victims of sexual assault or violence.”

Patricia also received support from his longtime boss with the New England Patriots on Thursday.

“The New England Patriots were not aware of the matter which recently came to light,” said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick in a statement. “For 14 years in our organization, Matt conducted himself with great integrity and is known to be an outstanding coach, person and family man. We have always been confident in Matt’s character and recommended him highly to become the head coach of the Detroit Lions.”

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