The full NFL investigative report on star Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott has been released. It was included as an exhibit to a lawsuit, filed in federal court by the NFL Players’ Association, demanding that Elliott’s league-issued suspension be vacated. In its lawsuit, the NFLPA calls what transpired “one of the most fundamentally unfair arbitral processes conceivable.”
... Elliott and the Union were subjected to an arbitration process in which, among other things, there was a League-orchestrated conspiracy by senior NFL executives, including NFL Senior Vice President and Special Counsel for Investigations Lisa Friel, to hide critical information—which would completely exonerate Elliott
Elliott was suspended by the league for six games for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. The NFL investigation started after his ex-girlfriend accused him of domestic violence. Prosecutors in Columbus, Ohio, investigated but declined to bring charges, saying there was “conflicting and inconsistent information across all incidents resulting in concern regarding the sufficiency of the evidence to support the filing of criminal charges.” The NFL conducted its own investigation and found that Elliott “had used physical force” against Tiffany Thompson. But the details of how the league reached that conclusion haven’t been public until now.
Before reading the report, know that the complaint alleges it is incomplete and flawed. Thompson was interviewed six times, but just twice were those interviews transcribed. The NFL’s report doesn’t reach a conclusion and excludes certain key pieces of information, the lawsuit claims (bold is as produced in the complaint).
First, after repeated questioning, Friel admitted that it was Roberts’ conclusion that after review of the totality of the evidence, there was insufficient evidence to corroborate Thompson’s version of events. Arb. Hr’g Tr. (Aug. 30), Ex. C. at 301:22-302:4. Friel admitted that this conclusion was excluded from the Elliott report, as a result of a decision that she made with NFL counsel
The lawsuit also takes issue with many parts of the arbitration and hearing process—it says that not having Thompson present for questioning was unfair.
Still, this is the report that the NFL produced. It reads like the opposite of an investigative report. It opens with summaries of the events and then, at page 78, goes into detailed accounts of each interview, following the timeline of the investigative process. Unlike the NFL’s letter to Elliott upon announcing his suspension, it does not state any definitive conclusions about who is right, who is wrong, or what might have happened. Unless indicated otherwise, everything that follows is from the NFL report.
The first part of the report is a summary. Here are significant parts from that section:
They met around Thompson’s 19th birthday, in early 2015. She eventually considered herself his girlfriend; Elliott said she was just one of many women that he slept with.
In March of last year, the report states, Thompson found out she was pregnant with twins. Elliott told her to get an abortion; initially, Thompson told him that she did not want to. But she miscarried one of the twins a few weeks later, and she had an abortion to end the pregnancy soon after. One of Elliott’s close friends, Alvarez Jackson, accompanied her to the abortion. Though the report notes that Thompson initially miscarried before going through with the decision to have an abortion to fully terminate the pregnancy, in the direct excerpt of investigators’ interview with her, there is no mention of the miscarriage:
The two were lying in bed between 4 and 5 a.m. on July 17 when a woman from Dallas Facetimed Elliott. When Thompson asked him about it, she said that he tried to have sex with her, and when she said no, he tried to have anal sex with her. She said no again, and Elliott became angry; he “yanks me out of the bed and pushes me up against the door by holding me with both of his hands,” Thompson told NFL investigators. “He chokes me and says, ‘What did I tell you?’”
Elliott denied arguing with Thompson that night—saying that another woman had Facetimed him, but that Thompson understood he was sleeping with other women—and denied physically fighting her.
Thompson texted her aunt pictures of her bruised arms, neck and shoulders the next day. (The NFL investigation confirmed that the metadata showed the photographs were taken in the apartment on that day.) The NFL had two different medical experts review the photographs as part of the investigation. Both noted that several of Thompson’s bruises did not appear to be fresh—a week or two old—while others looked consistent with bruises suffered within 24 hours of the photos being taken.
(The NFLPA’s lawsuit takes issue with these experts, saying “Ultimately, it was established that neither doctor could rule out the fact that the bruises depicted were consistent with numerous other possible causes apart from the allegations of abuse, including drunken and drug-induced falls, fights with other persons, rough sex and other possible causes.”)
On the night of July 17, Thompson went to work at a restaurant where she was a bottle service waitress. Elliott called her 20 times between 2:40 and 3:20 a.m. because he was locked out of the apartment and she had a key. When she returned to the apartment, she claimed that she found him yelling in the parking lot with his friend Alvarez Jackson. He opened the passenger door to her car, she said, and “reached over and grabbed her by the arm and pushed her back against the seat and grabbed the keys out of her hand.”
Elliott denied this incident happened, saying that the two had argued about her refusal to leave the apartment but that there had never been anything physical:
Elliott denied this account of an alleged incident in the early morning hours of July 22, at Elliott’s birthday party, held at a Columbus club, telling investigators he never put his hands on Thompson.
Outside Elliott’s birthday party, Thompson allegedly got in a fight with another woman. She claimed that there was no physical contact between the two other than hair-pulling. But a club security officer and two off-duty police officers working the event said that they saw the women throwing punches at one another, though they did not believe that any of the punches landed. A friend of Thompson’s, Ayrin Mason, provided the following to Columbus police:
Mason later told NFL investigators a different story, saying that there was no punching or kicking and that Thompson sustained no bruising in the fight.
Following Elliott’s birthday party at the club, he invited a smaller group to an afterparty at his apartment. (It is not clear if Thompson was invited or not, but she was there.) Thompson and Mason arrived before Elliott and were waiting in the parking lot when he showed up in a car driven by another woman. Thompson claimed that Elliott “dragged her” away when she tried to confront him, but all other witnesses interviewed by the NFL said this was not so:
Thompson then called the police. She said she had domestic violence to report, caused by her boyfriend and that “he [had] been doing it for the past five days.” When asked if he had hit her and where, she said, “all over.” She told the 911 operator that she did not need a medic at that moment but would probably have to go urgent care at some point. Thompson also texted Mason, instructing her to tell the police that Elliott had physically dragged her out of the car. (These texts could not be obtained by NFL investigators, but the Columbus police accessed them and noted them in their initial report.) Thompson told the NFL that the texts were her telling Mason to tell the truth about what she saw. From Mason’s account of the evening:
Police soon arrived, and Thompson told them that Elliott had assaulted her several times that week before finally yanking her right arm and dragging her out of the car just before her 911 call. Elliott said that he had not ever laid a hand on her and that any bruises she had were from her fight with another woman outside the club that night. Police did not file any charges that night due to the conflicting stories, and they told Thompson that she could go to the prosecutor’s office to further discuss potential charges if she would like.
Later that day, Thompson went public with her allegations of domestic abuse in an Instagram post. That afternoon, her father took her to the city attorney’s office. An intake officer there noted injuries on Thompson’s knees, hands, lower arms, right shoulder and across her neck.
A week later, Mason texted Thompson, “Do you want me to lie about what happened that night be zekes lawyer is about to call me again.” Mason told the NFL, however, that she had only sent that text because Elliott had asked her to do so—saying that his lawyers would need explicit proof that Thompson asked Mason to lie.
After a bit of back and forth, two hours later, Thompson responded to Mason “Don’t lie if you didn’t see anything happen then don’t say you did.” Mason told her that she hadn’t lied to the lawyer and that she hadn’t even been asked about that part of the evening.
Next comes the second half of the report, which follows the order of the interviews conducted.
The NFL investigator repeatedly asked Thompson to explain differences between what she said and what other people have said. Here are a few:
On Sept. 28, the NFL’s investigator talked to Elliott, who repeatedly denied hitting Thompson. When he was asked if he ever saw any injuries, such as bruising, he said: “She always would have bruises because she’s a small girl and she used to get really drunk and fall all over the place. I mean, she would have bruises sometimes, but I really didn’t see anything out of the normal.”
Elliott didn’t consider Thompson his girlfriend; he said it was a “sexual” relationship, although he did provide her with financial support and helped pay for her apartment.
He described it this way: “But I never was in a, was at a moment that I, did she ever think that we were in a relationship. She never at no time thought that she was the only girl that I was involved with. That’s all.”
He also talked several times about threats, he said, she made to ruin his life:
Here is another mention of a threat:
The alleged threats come up again on the night she called police, when, Elliott told investigators, that Thompson said nobody would believe him because she’s white and he’s black.
Investigators have only a few questions for Thompson, including if she told anyone else in her family about the abuse. She said she told her Aunt Elaine and her mom. They also asked her why she she kept seeing Elliott. She told them “I can’t explain it; it was really bipolar. We had good times and really bad times.”
Blades told NFL investigator Kia Wright Roberts that she had been friends with Thompson since the sixth grade, but Thompson had changed after meeting Elliott. She told Roberts: “I don’t know her anymore. She has a different outlook on life that I do. She hasn’t even called to check on my dad with him having leukemia. She doesn’t care.” She was asked if she ever saw Thompson with a bruised face.
Mason said she knew about the fighting but never heard about physical domestic violence before July 21. That day, Thompson showed her bruises and said, “I can’t do this anymore.” She added that in the past she had gotten pictures of bruises from Thompson with captions like “The sex was rough, LOL.” Despite all this, and a plan to file a police report, they went to Elliott’s birthday party that night because “she knew there would be other girls there and wanted to prevent anything from happening with Ezekiel and them...she really does love him.”
Mason said this about the text messages and the request to lie.
In her first interview, Thompson’s aunt talked about how she told Thompson not to get an abortion. She went into detail about how Thompson’s parents didn’t like Elliott because “they knew that he was a college football player, and they were always out drinking.” Elliott ended up financially supporting her because her parents wouldn’t even let her drive her car to see him and Elliott “wanted her to go to college and become something.”
Glenn said Thompson had told her about domestic violence, texting her pictures of injuries. Once she Facetimed with Thompson, who insisted it was “tough love.” She said she saw the injuries during a FaceTime on July 18. Before July, she said:
Several times l suspected that he was doing things to her, but she always said that she had fell or blacked out. I’ve been a victim of domestic violence before for years, and I know how people live. I didn’t believe her.
Thompson’s aunt would go into greater detail with investigators about the abortion. She said that she tried to talk Thompson out of it because “abortion is murder.” Instead, it ended with Thompson blocking her.
The NFL questioned Mason about two text messages, including one from July 18 in which Thompson said she was going to call the cops. Mason’s answers aren’t much. After that, according to a footnote, she stopped cooperating with investigators, On March 13, she sent them an email saying she would not longer cooperate.
They go over the abuse, again, in chronological order.
Tobias went over his investigation with Roberts. He talked a bit about Mason, saying that even when she cooperated, he felt like she did not want to be involved. Tobias also spoke about Alvarez Jackson, who he says told him that “none of those things had ever happened, and that he never intervened in anything.” He also said that officers at the club described the fight between Thompson and the woman differently. Thompson and Mason described it as brief but “the police officers described it as flying, punching, and falling to the ground.”
On the text about lying: “Once we saw the whole string, it later said Tiffany told her not to lie.” On the other witnesses, he noted: “We felt like the witnesses really rallied around their respective sides.”
“Tiffany just said that she wanted him to get counseling. Not vindictive, didn’t seem like she had a vendetta. I feel like something definitely happened here. She had bruising. We couldn’t determine exactly when and how she got the bruises, so we couldn’t charge him. But that doesn’t mean something didn’t happen here.”
Thompson’s mother told Roberts that she saw bruises, but that her daughter probably confided more to her sister—Thompson’s aunt—than her.
Roberts had questions about text messages between Elliott and Glenn around the time of the call to Aventura police. In the messages, Elliott says he is scared for Thompson. Glenn tells them, “They truly did care about each other, but her family life isn’t great.”
On Thompson’s decision to look into selling a sex tape of her and Elliott after the prosecutor’s office declined to bring charges:
The NFL requested that Elliott provide his texts and call logs with Thompson over a certain period, but he provided “redacted, incomplete” records: “None of the records provided contained the substance of any text messages, nor the call logs from from Mr. Elliott’s two cell phones and to date, such evidence has not been provided.”
On the medical experts’ analysis of Thompson’s bruises in the available photographs:
The report is one of dozens of exhibits attached to the NFLPA’s court filing, and we’re still going through them. The NFLPA is expected to file more paperwork today, including seeking a temporary restraining order to immediately block Elliott’s suspension.
Deadspin staff writer Patrick Redford contributed to this report.