Chiefs

Criticism of Tyreek Hill, Chiefs grows. But that may be the least of Hill’s problems

Tyreek Hill on explaining himself during NFL draft process

After he was drafted by the Chiefs on Saturday, Tyreek Hill was asked by The Star's Terez A. Paylor how he explained to NFL teams what happened at Oklahoma State, where Hill was dismissed following an arrest that led to Hill pleading guilty to dom
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After he was drafted by the Chiefs on Saturday, Tyreek Hill was asked by The Star's Terez A. Paylor how he explained to NFL teams what happened at Oklahoma State, where Hill was dismissed following an arrest that led to Hill pleading guilty to dom

The second chance that Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill sought in Kansas City the past three years may be coming to an end.

Social media and radio talk shows exploded Friday with calls for Hill to be gone after a conversation reportedly between Hill and his fiancee, Crystal Espinal, aired on local television Thursday night. Many wondered why the Chiefs didn’t cut the receiver as soon as the public heard the recording of Hill and Espinal talking about their 3-year-old son.

“Come on, Chiefs,” one person wrote on Facebook. “Just release him.”

Added another, on Twitter: “Ban him from the NFL for life ... .”

A former district attorney, in an interview with The Star, said the recorded conversation could move prosecutors closer to being able to file charges against Hill and even Espinal.

“This is definitely going to help,” said Paul Morrison, former Johnson County district attorney.

“The one thing that is pretty apparent in it is that there was probably some obstruction done by the fiancee,” Morrison said. “And that might be the toehold for them. You don’t know exactly what’s in all of those investigative reports. Sometimes, it just takes a little bit to push a case over the edge toward being fileable. Sometimes, it takes more. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

The criminal case involving Hill and Espinal was reopened Friday, Chiefs coach Andy Reid confirmed at a news conference. When asked about the case Friday afternoon, District Attorney Steve Howe said: “We have no comment at this time.”

In the recorded conversation, the couple talked 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 on the recording. “A 3-year-old is not going to lie about what happened to his arm.”

She went on to say, “He is terrified of you.”

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

The Chiefs suspended Hill Thursday night, hours after the recording aired. General Manager Brett Veach assured the public: “We will make the right decision regarding Tyreek Hill.”

Now the Kansas City community waits for the Chiefs’ next move regarding a player drafted in 2016 who had pleaded guilty the year before to domestic assault after strangling Espinal in December 2014 when she was eight weeks pregnant. As part of the plea agreement, Hill was ordered to complete 52 weeks of domestic violence prevention classes.

The two are now engaged and she is pregnant with twins.

And, in the midst of Hill’s team suspension, the Chiefs added another superstar with domestic violence in his background when they held an introductory press conference Friday afternoon for defensive end Frank Clark.

The recording of Hill and Espinal aired on KCTV-5 one day after the Johnson County district attorney declined to file charges against Hill or Espinal. Howe said Wednesday he believed a crime had been committed against the 3-year-old, but he couldn’t prove who did it.

Though the recorded conversation appears damning and has enraged the public, it still may not be enough for the courtroom, said Carl Cornwell, a Kansas City-area criminal defense attorney. One problem, he said, is the recording could be considered “hearsay” if prosecutors attempt to use it in court.

Plus, he said, Hill and Espinal both have legal counsel and at this point “they’re not talking to anybody.”

The defense attorney said, however, he wouldn’t be surprised if charges were eventually filed.

“Steve Howe and that office, you can tell, are mad because they can’t file,” Cornwell said before news that the case had been reopened. “And they are going to do everything they can to protect that child.”

By making the recording, Cornwell said, Espinal could have unwittingly made herself vulnerable to charges.

One example, he said, is her comment that Hill made their son open his arms so he could hit the boy in the chest.

“That’s child abuse, because she knew it was going on and didn’t stop it,” Cornwell said. “And putting a child in a position where that child shouldn’t be.”

News surfaced in mid-March that Overland Park police took two reports at Hill’s Johnson County home, one for battery and the other for child abuse and neglect. The police reports, dated March 5 and March 14, both involved a juvenile.

The Star reported last week that Hill’s son recently was removed from the custody of Hill and Espinal. It isn’t clear who the 3-year-old is staying with now.

The Kansas Department for 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 (Child Protection Services) people,” she said.

Later in the recording, Hill indicates Espinal isn’t supporting him now and wasn’t supporting him in 2014, possibly 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.

Hill also denies that he ever hurt his son.

“You know how I am with kids,” Hill says in the recording. “And you know how I am with (edited). I’m very hard. But I would never, ever hurt my son in, in life.“

People across the community are weighing in. Even Jean Peters Baker, Jackson County prosecutor, posted her take on Twitter before it was known the case had been reopened:

“A prosecution can’t be proven but what will this community say about a man who strikes a 3YO with a closed fist and then cowers behind legal standards?” she tweeted. “Let’s not make this overly difficult. He is an unrepentant abuser of a completely innocent child.”

The Johnson County District Attorney said he won't file charges against Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill or Hill's fiancee Crystal Espinal. It was the latest off-the-field development for Hill, who has a history of domestic violence.

Rehabilitation and reabuse

Little is publicly known about the program Hill completed as part of his sentence from the 2014 incident.

David Adams, co-director of Emerge, which is the nation’s first counseling program for domestic abusers, said it’s crucial to know exactly what he completed.

“To me the key thing is whether the person has engaged in any kind of structured program that is really designed to promote accountability and change,” Adams said.

If a batterer doesn’t get into a “meaningful program,” Adams said, “then they are going to be abusive again.”

In Hill’s plea agreement from Oklahoma, it doesn’t specify the type of program he went through — only that it was a year of domestic violence classes. The Chiefs also have not given specifics about the treatment Hill has had.

Soon after the Chiefs drafted Hill, Reid said the wide receiver was working to be a better person. He was in counseling and would continue that, as well as the domestic violence course.

“We see this kid trying to do that — he’s trying to make the effort to right the wrong — and I think that can be a great example to so many people that have fallen into this situation,” Reid said in spring 2016. “Before you’re given a second chance, you better be doing the right things. … We feel good that he’s trying to right a wrong, a big wrong. But he’s trying to do better, and be a better person for it. And that part, we feel very confident in.”

Then-Chiefs general manager John Dorsey said in 2016 that he had “long discussions” with Reid and team chairman Clark Hunt before drafting Hill. “We would never put anybody in this community in harm’s way,” Dorsey said.

Reid echoed Dorsey that day.

“We want people to understand, like Dorse (sic) said, we’re not going to do anything to put this community or this organization in a bind,” Reid said.

In the steps of accountability, Adams said abusers need to recognize that the behavior was abusive and that they were responsible for it.

And, they need to recognize what impact the abuse had on the one hurt.

“You see a lot of celebrities apologize to their fans … or offering a sort of blanket apologies,” Adams said. “Rather than being specific about what the abusive behavior was and how that impacted their partner. The purpose is to promote empathy not just accountability.”

In Kansas City, many have embraced Hill since he arrived in 2016.

But successful rehabilitation comes with a “transparent process of accountability,” Adams said.

“The idea of a second chance really should be based on the person getting into the right kind of program,” Adams said, “and there being a more transparent process so this is how we can judge whether he’s made meaningful changes. Not whether he’s handing out turkeys at Thanksgiving.”

Weeks after authorities confirmed they were investigating two reports involving a child at the home of Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill, the Johnson County District Attorney said Hill wouldn’t be charged.

A troubling pattern

While the Chiefs weigh a decision regarding Hill’s future, the club on Friday introduced defensive end Clark. He was acquired via trade with Seattle and is set to receive a $105 million, five-year contract from the Chiefs.

Clark has his own history with domestic violence, and his signing comes five months after the Chiefs released running back Kareem Hunt in the wake of a video that showed him punching and kicking a woman in the hallway of his Cleveland residence.

As a senior at the University of Michigan in 2014, Clark was kicked off the team after he was charged with domestic violence and assault resulting from a fight with his then-girlfriend at a Sandusky, Ohio, hotel.

Photos of the victim taken by police at the scene show lacerations and marks on her face and throat along with a shattered lamp. Clark had a laceration on his nose.

During his investigation that night, a police officer spoke with a hotel employee who said a guest told her small children ran from the hotel room and told them, “Frank is killing our sister.”

The victim’s younger brother then told police, according to the report, he saw Clark hitting his sister. He told police that he saw his sister try to fight back, and that Clark grabbed her by the throat, picked her up off the ground, and slammed her into the ground while also landing on top of her.

The victim told police a different version of events. She said that she and Clark were on the bed and began to argue. She said she had been “short-tempered,” and that she got mad and threw the TV remote at him. She told police that Clark restrained her, and that’s when she bit his nose. He then pushed her head down into the bed and then they both got off the bed. She said Clark punched her in the face and she fell back, breaking the lamp. She told police she then threw an alarm clock at him as he was trying to gather his belongings to leave.

When asked about the marks on her neck, the victim told police Clark grabbed her shirt and that she fell down to the left side of the bed.

Clark was charged with first-degree misdemeanor domestic violence and dismissed from the team two days later. His charges were reduced to fourth-degree persistent disorderly conduct, and he completed a 25-week domestic violence course along with paying court costs and fines.

A few months later, the Seahawks selected him in the second round of the 2015 draft.

In 2017, Clark lashed out at a female journalist who re-shared a post she wrote about his domestic violence history.

“People like you don’t have long careers in your field,” he tweeted then. “I have a job for you cleaning my fish tank when that lil job is ova @natalieweiner”

Clark issued two apologies afterward, one a vague offering, while the next was sent from the Seahawks’ headquarters.

The Chiefs pursued Clark during the 2019 off-season, making him their priority. Within hours of the trade agreement this week, Clark signed a long-term contract that includes $63.5 million in guaranteed money.

Chiefs general manager Brett Veach says Tyreek Hill won’t be involved in team activities for now.

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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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