In a memorandum of understanding dated 2016, the NFL and the National District Attorneys Association—a professional group that represents and lobbies on behalf of the nation’s 2,500 or so district attorneys—outlined an “information sharing partnership” covering investigations into “alleged criminal acts involving NFL players or other NFL employees.”
The agreement, signed by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and then-NDAA president William Fitzpatrick, describes how 50 special liaisons between the two groups, chosen by the NDAA’s executive committee, will assist both NFL and criminal investigators. While vague, the duties of these liaisons include helping the NFL understand “atypical procedural processes,” keeping both sides apprised of the status of investigations, and discussing information that is “legally and ethically appropriate to share” with the NFL once a case has been closed. (The liaisons also offer more basic assistance; despite years of bragging about how it keeps rosters full of ex-FBI and ex-CIA employees who can sniff out every misstep at a moment’s notice, the NFL apparently needs special help with such basic tasks as pulling court records.) In all, as described in the document, the liaison role seems to benefit the NFL much more than prosecutors.
Deadspin first learned about the document in an email exchange between NFL director of investigations Kia Roberts and a Columbus prosecutor who had worked on the investigation of possible domestic violence involving Dallas Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott. (No charges were filed in that case.) Roberts mentioned it in an email to assistant city attorney Robert Tobias, writing that she felt Tobias should disclose details from conversations he had had with the woman who had said Elliott hurt her, Tiffany Thompson. She presented the memo as one of several reasons she felt Tobias should comply with her request, which Tobias declined to do.
Nelson Bunn, acting president of the NDAA, shared the memo with Deadspin on Sunday night. The memo isn’t dated beyond saying 2016 at the top, and is not legally binding. Prosecutors, as those in Columbus did, can still tell NFL investigators no if they so choose. But its existence does give that much more cover to law enforcement doing special favors—or, perhaps, engaging in “atypical procedural processes”—for the NFL, like sharing non-public documents or the contents of off-the-record conversations with witnesses or victims. It also seems to acknowledge that NFL spooks—often billed as the best in the business—are just yokels filing public-records requests.
(Deadspin has reached out to Bunn with follow-up questions. This post will be updated if Bunn responds.)
The memo begins by establishing basic facts, like what the NFL and the NDAA are. It defines “Covered Acts” as “alleged criminal acts involving NFL players and or other NFL employees,” and says both organizations “seek to ensure respect for the laws, rules, and processes of any jurisdiction involved in a Covered Act, including but not limited to those laws designed to protect the rights of the accused and witnesses.”
Curiously, it then asserts that there is a benefit to the NFL and prosecutors talking to each other “to ensure that, among other things, their respective investigations do not unduly interfere with each other and Covered Acts are evaluated on a full evidentiary record.” It’s unclear why prosecutors would be concerned with whether or not their investigations interfere with a private organization’s investigations into violations of its conduct policy, or why they would be concerned with the evidentiary record that organization uses to evaluate cases.
The memorandum then lays out details of the “information sharing partnership,” which will include “statewide prosecutor-liaison positions” to help the NFL and local law enforcement with their investigations.
Here is how the liaisons are described:
And here is how the information sharing is described:
The memorandum ends by saying that the two parties will work to create relationships between NFL teams and the prosecutors where each team is located. The goal is to make people in the local prosecutor’s office “available to the team for training or educational purposes.” What those purposes might be isn’t explained.
The full memo is below.
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