Sam Mellinger

Taking inventory of the bizarre Tyreek Hill case and mistakes made (including mine)

No charges for Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill after investigation

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.
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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.

This column is for you, but the first few words are for me.

In April I wrote a column that, among other things, said that the Chiefs would likely soon release Tyreek Hill. Those words came after correspondence with two Chiefs officials, neither of whom disagreed with the general premise.

My words and the perspective of those officials were largely framed by clips from an 11-minute recording made in secret by Hill’s fiancee Crystal Espinal and released by KCTV5. Angie Ricono, the reporter on the story, said “we released the newsworthy portions.” With 610 Sports obtaining and releasing the full audio this week, we know now that Ricono’s words are simply not true.

It’s hard to think of a scenario in which that was an honest mistake.

But this isn’t about Ricono, or anyone else in KCTV5’s news department. I took the clips at face value, and never publicly questioned whether the rest of the audio might provide worthwhile context. The clips seemed to confirm the worst, and I should have known better.

That’s on me. I regret not asking the right questions, not stepping back and thinking from a broader perspective, and any further mangling of an already delicate situation this may have caused.

I tend to write from the heart, and it usually serves me well. I also need to remember when to pump the brakes. I’ll get better from this.

Now, all that said, before NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announces a possible punishment — could be this week, according to a source, but more likely next week — it’s worth taking some inventory.

The Chiefs and NFL had heard the full audio long before this week, and those 11 minutes are something like a grain of sand in a beach of evidence that Goodell is considering.

But even so, it’s a stark statement of where some people stood on Hill that some are seeing innocence and vindication from a recording that includes him threatening and insulting Espinal — whom he pleaded guilty to punching and strangling in 2014 — and responding to her claim that he punched their 3-year-old son in the chest by saying, “OK, but what about you?”

The headline from the full recording (and among the most egregious omissions by KCTV5) is Hill adamantly and repeatedly denying hitting Espinal in 2014. But, even then, he doesn’t have a good answer when she asks, “Then where did all those bruises come from?”

The Chiefs and NFL may be the only parties to have handled this impossible-to-prepare-for situation well so far. At the very least, the timing of the initial child abuse investigation beginning in March gave the team and league the benefit of space. They did not make a decision because they did not have to. No deadline existed.

The Chiefs gave Hill a suspension that they could not technically call a suspension, and chairman Clark Hunt noted publicly that Hill was “not part of the organization.” Then they waited for law enforcement to complete their investigation.

But even law enforcement muddied the waters when Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe held a news conference in which he was admittedly and visibly frustrated and said a crime had been committed against the boy but he couldn’t prove who did it.

Prosecutors across the country face that scenario every day, but even allowing for the unique and public nature of this, how often do they call in reporters to say something like that?

That and KCTV5’s editing of the tape are the two most obvious flash points in an endlessly bizarre and sad story. But even Andy Reid, who usually divulges as little as possible publicly, stepped in it when he mistakenly said in April that Howe had re-opened the investigation after KCTV5’s initial report. Howe was asked that day by the Star (and likely others) to clarify Reid’s words, and did not respond.

None of these bread crumbs alone would amount to much, but together they formed a trail that seemed to lead to the same place.

Those of us paid to be skeptical and know better should have been more skeptical and known better.

The recording is 11 minutes of an unhealthy reality that Hill and Espinal created together. Hill will soon know whether it was bad enough for a punishment from his employer.

Covering this has been baffling, dizzying and sad. I’ll be better for the experience, though. I’ll learn from my mistakes. I hope others will too.

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Sam Mellinger is a sports columnist for the Kansas City Star, where he’s worked since 2000. He has won numerous national and regional awards for coverage of the Chiefs, Royals, colleges, and other sports both national and local.
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