Chiefs

‘He is terrified of you.’ Tyreek Hill, fiancee heard discussing their son on tape

Tyreek Hill’s 3-year-old son told his mother the Kansas City Chiefs star hit him, according to a recording aired Thursday night on KCTV-5.

“Daddy punches me,” the boy’s mother, Crystal Espinal, said in a conversation with Hill, paraphrasing the child. “He is terrified of you.”

Hill responded, according to the recording: “You need to be terrified of me, too, b----.”

The recording aired one day after the Johnson County district attorney declined to file charges against Hill or his fiancee, Espinal. District Attorney Steve Howe said Wednesday he believed a crime had been committed against the boy, but he couldn’t prove who did it.

Chiefs general manager Brett Veach announced Thursday night that Hill had been suspended from team activities and that the Chiefs would gather more information.

“Earlier this evening we were made aware of the audio between Tyreek and Crystal,” Veach said shortly after the first round of the NFL Draft concluded. “We were made aware of this information in real time, just like the general public.

“We were deeply disturbed by what we heard and were deeply concerned. Obviously we have great concern for Crystal. We are greatly concerned for Tyreek, but our main focus and main concern is with the young child.

“We will make the right decision regarding Tyreek Hill.”

Veach did not take questions after issuing his statement on Hill.

The television station said the 11-minute long recording was made while the couple walked through Dubai International Airport. The Kansas City Star could not independently confirm Thursday that it was Hill and Espinal on the recording.

In the recording, the two were talking about their son, the pair’s parenting styles and an injury to the boy’s arm.

The Star reported on March 15 that a source familiar with the situation said an incident at Hill’s home left the boy with a broken arm.

“Why does (he) say ‘Daddy did it?’” Espinal asked. “A 3-year-old is not going to lie about what happened to his arm.”

According to the television station, the recording captured Hill and Espinal discussing what they told investigators and who “ratted” them out. In it, the couple accused each other of using a belt on their son. Espinal appeared to say she told investigators her son gets “whooped.”

“I didn’t do nothing,” Hill responded.

Howe had said earlier that he thought the criminal case was closed, but if new information surfaced it could be reopened.

The television station said it provided the recording to Howe. When reached by The Star, Howe declined to comment on KCTV-5’s report. So did Hill’s attorneys.

Eight hours before the report aired, the attorneys issued a statement.

“Tyreek has maintained from the inception and throughout the investigation that he was innocent of any crime,” the statement from Trey Pettlon, Ryan Ginie and Julius Collins read.

“Contrary to some media reports, Tyreek cooperated with law enforcement, waived his Fifth Amendment rights, and answered questions from both law enforcement and DCF (the Kansas Department for Children and Families). He continues to cooperate with authorities.”

The attorneys included a statement from Hill. In it, the 25-year-old wide receiver said he loves and supports his family above anything.

“My son’s health and happiness is my number one priority,” he said in the statement. “I want to thank the Kansas City Chiefs, my attorneys, my agent and my union for supporting me through this.

“My focus remains on working hard to be the best person for my family and our community I can be, and the best player to help our team win.”

Hill has a history of domestic violence. He pleaded guilty in 2015 to strangling Espinal. The two are now engaged and she is pregnant with twins.

The Kansas Department of Children and Families has an ongoing child protection case focused on the couple’s son. In the recording aired Thursday, Espinal appeared to say she defended Hill to investigators.

“I rode for you against that detective and the CPS people,” she said.

Later in the recording, Hill indicates Espinal isn’t supporting him now and wasn’t supporting him in 2014, potentially in reference to when Hill was arrested.

“You ain’t riding for me in 2014, you damn sure ain’t riding for me now, bro,” Hill said.

News of the recording broke Thursday evening as the league was getting ready for one of its biggest nights, the annual draft.

Though prosecutors so far have declined to act, the Chiefs could take action on their own. In November, running back Kareem Hunt was released by the team hours after video showed him shoving and kicking a woman in a hallway.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell could issue a league punishment for a violation of the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

According to a section of the collective bargaining agreement with players, regardless of crime or legal charges, Goodell could take action against Hill for “conduct detrimental to the integrity of, or public confidence in, the game of professional football.”

Goodell most recently set a precedent for this when he suspended Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott for violating that policy in 2017. Prosecutors in Columbus, Ohio, didn’t file charges after a year-long investigation into domestic abuse allegations made by an ex-girlfriend. But Goodell and the NFL determined a six-game suspension was warranted using statements from Elliott’s former girlfriend along with photos of injuries he was accused of inflicting on her.

Following a legal battle that went all the way to a federal appeals court, in which Goodell’s power to issue punishments for off-the-field issues was ultimately upheld, Elliott dropped his appeal of the penalty and served his suspension during the second half of the 2017 season.

In Hill’s case, the investigation involves a minor. Because of that, it will be more difficult for the NFL to obtain law enforcement records related to any alleged abuse. Howe, the Johnson County district attorney, said it’s “highly unlikely” he will share information or records from the case with the NFL.

The Star was the first to publish on March 15 that Hill was being investigated after Overland Park police took two reports at Hill’s Johnson County home. One was for battery and the other for child abuse and neglect.

The police reports, dated March 5 and March 14, both involved a juvenile.

Last week, The Star reported that the child had been removed from the custody of Hill and Espinal. It isn’t clear when the boy was removed, or who he is staying with now.

Sources have told The Star in recent weeks that Hill and Espinal have been working through a family court process called a “child in need of care” case. The couple was at the Johnson County courthouse last week.

Generally, cases like this involve DCF and the county court. A judge and lawyers representing the parents and the child discuss and make decisions about the child’s safety and care.

These cases can also result in a child being removed from a home.

DCF has an ongoing child protection case focused on the child, Howe said.

Star reporter Kaitlyn Schwers contributed to this report.

Related stories from Kansas City Star

Laura Bauer came to The Star in 2005 after spending much of her life in southwest Missouri. She’s a member of the investigative team focusing on watchdog journalism. In her 25-year career, Laura’s stories on child welfare, human trafficking, crime and Kansas secrecy have been nationally recognized.
Brooke Pryor covers the Kansas City Chiefs for the Kansas City Star, where she works to give readers a deeper understanding of the franchise and the NFL through daily stories, game coverage, and player profiles. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Winston-Salem, N.C.
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