A law enforcement official says he sent a video of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee to an NFL executive five months ago, while league executives have insisted they didn’t see the violent images until this week.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been criticized and called to resign for his handling of Rice’s punishment. Goodell initially suspended Rice for two games following the February incident in which footage showed him dragging his unconscious fiancee’s body out of the elevator at a now-closed Atlantic City casino.
But on Monday, the Ravens terminated Rice’s contract and the NFL suspended him indefinitely after the website TMZ released video from inside the elevator that showed Rice throw a punch that knocked Janay Palmer — now his wife — off her feet, into a railing and on the floor.
Goodell told CBS on Tuesday that “no one in the NFL, to my knowledge” had seen a new video of what happened on the elevator until it was posted online.
“We assumed that there was a video. We asked for video. But we were never granted that opportunity,” Goodell said.
On Wednesday, the law enforcement official, speaking to the The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, played the AP a 12-second voice mail from an NFL office number on April 9 confirming the video arrived. A female voice expresses thanks and says: “You’re right. It’s terrible.”
The law enforcement official said he had no further communication with any NFL employee and can’t confirm anyone watched the video. The person said he was unauthorized to release the video but shared it unsolicited, because he wanted the NFL to have it before deciding on Rice’s punishment.
The NFL said it had no record of the video, and no one in the league office had seen it until it was released by TMZ on Monday. When asked about the voice mail Wednesday, NFL officials repeated their assertion that no league official had seen the video before Monday.
“We have no knowledge of this,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Wednesday. “We are not aware of anyone in our office who possessed or saw the video before it was made public on Monday. We will look into it.”
Goodell, who was supposed to attend an award ceremony for Panthers owner Jerry Richardson in Charlotte on Wednesday night, did not attend the event and instead headed back to New York. Late Wednesday night, the NFL announced former FBI chief Robert Mueller III will conduct an independent investigation into how the league handled Rice.
The law enforcement official said he sent a DVD copy of the security camera video to an NFL office and included his contact information. He asked the AP not to release the name of the NFL executive, for fear that the information would identify him as the source.
In a memo to the NFL’s 32 teams on Wednesday, Goodell said that the league asked law enforcement for the video, but not the casino. “In the context of a criminal investigation, information obtained outside of law enforcement that has not been tested by prosecutors or by the court system is not necessarily a reliable basis for imposing league discipline,” he wrote.
New York Giants president and co-owner John Mara issued a written statement Wednesday, before the AP report, that supported Goodell, though it said many owners were dissatisfied with the original two-game suspension of Rice.
After Goodell drew criticism for not being tough enough on Rice, he wrote a letter to all 32 NFL owners in August saying he “didn’t get it right.” First-time offenders now face at least a six-game suspension.
“The notion that the League should have gone around law enforcement to obtain the video is, in my opinion, misguided, as is the notion that the Commissioner’s job is now in jeopardy,” Mara said.
Another version of the video from inside the elevator, shown to the AP on Monday, is slightly longer than the TMZ version, and includes some audio.
Rice and Janay Palmer can be heard shouting obscenities at each other, and she appeared to spit at Rice right before he threw a brutal punch. After she collapsed, he dragged her out of the elevator and was met by hotel staff. One of them was heard saying, “She’s drunk, right?” And then, “No cops.”
Rice, 27, had been charged with felony aggravated assault in the case, but in May he was accepted into a pretrial intervention program that allowed him to avoid jail time and could lead to the charge being purged from his record. A prominent New Jersey lawmaker called Tuesday for that decision to be reviewed.
On Wednesday, National Organization for Women president Terry O’Neill called for Goodell to resign for mishandling the league’s policy on domestic violence.
“The NFL has lost its way,” she told The New York Times. “It doesn’t have a Ray Rice problem; it has a violence against women problem.”
O’Neill also called for the league to appoint an independent investigator to gather data about domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking within the NFL community and to recommend reforms.
“The NFL sets the example for college, high school, middle school and even elementary school football programs,” she said. “And the example it is setting right now is simply unacceptable.”
The NFL also has drawn the attention of Congress. The House Judiciary Committee said the NFL hasn’t given a satisfactory explanation as to how the league made its request for the video footage. U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado, the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, called for a hearing into how professional sports leagues handle domestic violence.
Goodell and Ravens officials said they took more severe action because of the violence in the video released Monday. Until releasing him, Ravens officials had praised Rice for his apologies and actions after his arrest for aggravated assault.
An Atlantic City police summons stated that Rice caused “bodily injury to Janay Palmer, specifically by striking her with his hand, rendering her unconscious.” But Rice wasn’t indefinitely suspended by Goodell until video of the punch surfaced Monday.
“You see the first video, the February video, and that’s difficult, you can see that something has gone very wrong …” Goodell told USA Today on Tuesday, saying a February interview with Rice provided “an ambiguous description” of what took place in the elevator.
“There was no ambiguity when you saw that tape (Monday)…” Goodell continued. “It was clear what we were hearing was not consistent.”
Goodell said in an interview on “CBS This Morning” that he was used to criticism and that he had no plans to leave his position.
“Every day I have to, to do a better job,” he said. “And that’s my responsibility to the game, to the NFL, and to what I see as society. People expect a lot from the NFL. We accept that.”
The New York Times News Service and Bloomberg News contributed to this report