District Attorney Jeff Rosen announced on Monday that his office will not file domestic violence charges against San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Ray McDonald, citing a lack of evidence.
San Jose police arrested and jailed the football player on suspicion of felony domestic violence Aug. 31, after responding to reports of a dispute at his 30th birthday party that reportedly left his pregnant then-fiancé physically hurt. Investigators said she showed “visible injuries.”
But after a two-month review of the incident, which included inappropriate contact between an off-duty San Jose police officer and the suspect, the the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office said it had no choice but to drop the case.
“Conflicting versions of the incident, a lack of verifiable eyewitnesses, and a significant lack of cooperation by Jane Doe [McDonald’s fiancé] left investigators uncertain exactly what happened,” Rosen’s office stated in a press release.
“Both of the parties involved state that Jane Doe struck Ray McDonald first and the evidence shows injuries consistent with restrain and an ensuing scuffle rather than an attack,” the statement continues. “Extensive follow-up investigation has not shown otherwise. Because of conflicting accounts, the lack of verifiable eyewitnesses and the seemingly minor nature of Jane Doe’s injuries, we cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime occurred.”
According to the DA’s office, the case was complicated because a San Jose police officer—Sgt. Sean Pritchard, who was working a private security gig on the side for the 49ers—was already at McDonald’s home when authorities arrived on scene.
Pritchard’s close relationship with the football player, as well as other off-duty work by officers for the football team, has raised concerns that officers' moonlighting security jobs present conflicts of interest. The San Jose Police Department has since suspended all work with the 49ers and launched an internal investigation into why Pritchard was at the player’s home.
Prosecutors say McDonald called Pritchard over, worried about text messages he was getting from women he met the night before. McDonald told Pritchard that he was afraid the women would show up at his house and cause trouble.
"At one point he told Sgt. Pritchard he was afraid the women had actually shown up because one of them sent him a text describing what he was wearing," according to the DA's office.
Sometime later in the party, McDonald's 10-week-pregnant fiancé came downstairs to confront McDonald's guests, worried that some women at the party were "getting too friendly." She told one woman talking to McDonald to step outside, which they did. The confrontation turned verbally aggressive. McDonald got upset and began calling his fiancé names, telling her she was an unfit mother and threatening to take her baby.
Then, according to the DA, she hit McDonald.
"Jane Doe said it was a single push," the DA's statement reads. "McDonald said Jane Doe hit him multiple times with a closed fist. (McDonald had no visible injuries or complaints of pain.) McDonald grabbed Jane Doe’s arms to restrain her, resulting in visible injury. At some point they ended up on the couch. Jane Doe said McDonald threw her on the couch. McDonald said they fell on the couch. McDonald tried to remove Jane Doe from the home forcibly. At one point he grabbed her neck, resulting in visible injury. Jane Doe said she was 'fighting back,' physically resisting McDonald’s efforts to pull her out of the house. Jane Doe said she tried to push McDonald off of her. Jane Doe was able to free herself. McDonald said he let go. Then Jane Doe ran upstairs."
McDonald called Pritchard at 2:39am and said, "I need to get this female out of my house."
Two minutes later, his fiancé called 9-1-1 and said, "Hello. I'd like to press for a domestic violence ... my fiancé … he’s trying to pull me out of the house … he’s drunk ... I think he’s calling the cops, he, he’s trying to get me out.”
Later that morning, after being sent to the hospital for treatment and while McDonald was in custody, she sent a text saying, "Shit got way outta hand."
The August incident wasn't the first time police responded to McDonald's Bentley Ridge Drive home. In May, his fiancé allegedly fired a gun.
"The fact that the appropriate charging decision is clear does not make it simple or easy," the DA's office stated. "Facts surrounding the incident remain unknown despite extensive investigation. Jane Doe’s decision not to cooperate further with the investigation and the lack of eyewitnesses has left critical gaps in the evidence. Missing evidence precludes a feeling of certainty regarding how the events unfolded in this case. The charging decision is neither simple nor easy in part because of public expectations surrounding the case."
Throughout the investigation, the NFL and 49ers have allowed McDonald to play in games, with 49ers owner Jed York insisting on allowing due process to play out. The league has faced criticism for the way it disciplines players accused of domestic abuse. The McDonald incident occurred right after Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was suspended. Video surveillance showed Rice punching his fiancée in a hotel elevator, knocking her out cold.
The 49ers hold the dubious distinction of most arrests in the league—10—since 2012.