In a four-page letter sent to the NFL on Thursday, an attorney for Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill denies child abuse claims alluded to in a secret audio recording allegedly made by his fiancee in a Dubai airport.
The letter disputes nearly every claim made in the snippets of the 11-minute recording aired on a Kansas City television station late last week.
“He categorically denies he has ever ‘punched’ his son in the chest or anywhere on his body, or otherwise touched him in the chest in a mean-spirited manner or as a form of discipline,” Hill’s attorney, Trey Pettlon, wrote in the letter, published by ESPN. “He also denies that he has ever grabbed his son’s arms and pulled them aside to strike him. There have been occasions when Tyreek has tapped his son gently on the chest with his fingers, while his son was crying and said, ‘man up, buddy’ or ‘don’t cry, my man.’ He has said that in a calm voice trying to redirect him.”
The letter comes more than a week after Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe had announced that though he thought a crime was committed, he didn’t have enough evidence to prove who hurt the 3-year-old son of Hill and Crystal Espinal. Calls to Pettlon and Espinal were not immediately returned. The NFL and Howe’s office declined to comment.
After the taped recording of the conversation between Hill and Espinal — who is pregnant with twins — aired, Howe re-opened the case. 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 Hill in the recording that KCTV-5 obtained and aired on April 25. “A 3-year-old is not going to lie about what happened to his arm.”
In Thursday’s letter, Pettlon described the broken arm as the result of an accident. He said the boy was examined at the hospital and released “without any indication that the accident that broke his arm was caused by Tyreek or contributed to by Tyreek, or that Tyreek was even somehow involved.”
The Chiefs suspended Hill from team activities after the recording aired last week. Chiefs owner Clark Hunt told reporters Saturday that the franchise will make “the right decision about Tyreek at the right time.”
The letter also addresses allegations that Hill and Espinal both said the other spanked their little boy. Espinal said in the recording that she never used a belt to discipline their child and Hill argued that she did.
Pettlon said the recording was made “during a time when the parties were considering separation and contemplating a custody battle.”
Hill did not know that Espinal was recording the conversation, Pettlon said in his letter. The attorney said Hill was hearing some of Espinal’s allegations for the first time.
After the couple returned from Dubai, Pettlon told the NFL that the couple exchanged text messages related to spanking.
“Crystal you know I didn’t cause any bruising or harm to (our son),” Hill reportedly texted to Espinal, according to the letter.
According to Pettlon, Espinal responded: “I know you didn’t. I did. I hurt (our son). I’m the one that did it. I was hurt and mad at you so I blamed you for everything.”
Pettlon said that both parents now understand that corporal punishment is unacceptable. Both parents are cooperating with the Kansas Department for Children and Families and are in family counseling. Hill also is going to individual counseling, Pettlon said in his letter.
“He is committed to improving his life and becoming the best parent he can be,” Pettlon wrote. “... He is very upbeat even through this difficult process, and he’s embracing the counseling and the educational aspect to it.”
Before the recorded conversation became public, The Star reported on April 18 that Hill’s son recently was removed from the custody of Hill and Espinal. It was not clear when the boy was removed, or who he is staying with now.
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, involved a juvenile.
DCF has an ongoing child protection case focused on the child. 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.
When asked Thursday if DCF had received any communication from Hill’s attorney, an agency spokesman said he could not discuss any specifics of a case.
Later in the recorded conversation, Hill indicates Espinal isn’t supporting him now and wasn’t supporting him in 2014, potentially in reference to when Hill assaulted her. Back then, Hill was arrested and charged with punching and strangling Espinal. In 2015, he pleaded guilty and completed three years of probation.
“You ain’t riding for me in 2014, you damn sure ain’t riding for me now, bro,” Hill said.
Espinal recalled a time their son was crying. Hill responded by telling the child to “shut up,” she said, according to the recording.
“He kept saying, ‘Daddy punches me,’ which you do when he starts crying,” Espinal appeared to say in the recording. “What do you do? You make him open up his arms and you punch him in the chest.”
At one point she said, “He is terrified of you.”
Hill responded, according to the recording: “You need to be terrified of me, too, dumb b----.”
Pettlon referenced that statement in his letter.
“That comment is inexcusable, of course, and he wouldn’t ask me to defend that here,” Pettlon wrote to the NFL. “That comment is also inconsistent with Tyreek’s conversations with Ms. Espinal over the past several months.”
Throughout the recorded conversation, the couple also seemed to argue over each other’s parenting style, as reported by KCTV-5. Hill seemed to criticize Espinal as a mother, saying he wants his son “to learn respect.”
“Things could have been handled a lot differently with him than the way they have been now. And these twins,” Espinal responded.
Hill released a statement a week ago thanking the Chiefs and his attorneys for supporting him. Hill said he remained focused on being the best person he can be for his family and the best player he could be to help his team win.
“I love and support my family above everything,” he said in the statement released by his attorneys. “My son’s health and happiness is my number one priority.”