An independent investigation into the NFL found no evidence that any league executives saw or was in possession of the Ray Rice in-elevator video before its public release, according to the findings of former FBI director Robert Mueller released Thursday. (The full summary, the product of a four month investigation, can be seen here.)
Mueller specifically shot down a report made by The Associated Press, which claimed a woman at the league office acknowledged receiving a DVD copy of the video back in April. Ray Rice, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens, punched his then-fiance in an Atlantic City elevator in February.
Mueller and his team searched the computer and mobile phones of Commissioner Roger Goodell as well as other top league staffers. More than 400 computers connected to the league network were also searched. The process included a dump of all 1,583 calls from the NFL's main number on April 9, the day that The Associated Press claimed a staff member received the video, as well as a search of the league's mail room where any package might have been delivered. Every female employee, contractor, vendor or intern whose electronic badge recorded that she was at the league's main office that day was interviewed specifically to determine if they received a DVD containing the in-elevator video.
Although they could not prove Goodell or any of his associates were connected to the damning footage, which was released in September by TMZ, Mueller concluded that the league was given more than enough information to hand down an appropriate punishment to Rice the first time. Mueller further found the NFL's deference to law enforcement "can foster an environment in which it is less important to understand precisely what a player did than to understand how and when the criminal justice system addresses the event."
"Discipline should be imposed on basis of the specific nature of the player's conduct, not solely on disposition of a criminal case," he said.
Despite acknowledging the league's changes to its own personal-conduct policy, the report recommended more training and better supervision for members of the league office charged with investigating such issues, as well as more thorough "investigative guidelines and standards." Mueller added that there should be policies requiring information sharing between the league and its 32 clubs during investigations and that the NFL's security department should be expanded. It should also include a specialized team for domestic violence issues and sexual assault cases.
The Ravens did not share a detailed description of the in-elevator video that they received from the Atlantic City Police Department with the NFL, which is why Mueller was adamant about opening up the lines of communication between the executive office and the clubs.
"The NFL should have done more with the information it had," Mueller writes, "and should have taken additional steps to obtain all available information about the February 15 incident."
Those changes, Mueller hopes, could prevent a repeat of the failed processes he details throughout his summary.
"We are grateful to Director Mueller for conducting an extremely thorough and detailed investigation, and we accept his findings and recommendations," Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.
Because the NFL had already seen the outside elevator video of Rice dragging his unconscious fiance toward their room, and because the league had seen a copy of the police report and grand jury indictment, Goodell and his team should have been "on notice that a serious assault had occurred and that it should conduct a more substantial independent investigation."
Mueller summarized specific missteps here:
"League investigators did not contact any of the police officers who investigated the incident, the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office, or the Revel to attempt to obtain or view the in-elevator video or to obtain other information. No one from the League asked Rice or his lawyer whether they would make available for viewing the in-elevator video they received as part of criminal discovery in early April. And, after the initial contacts with the Ravens in the immediate aftermath of the incident, League investigators did not follow up with the Ravens to determine whether the team had additional information."
Neither the Atlantic City Police Department nor The Associated Press offered to contribute to the investigation.