Detroit Lions owner Martha Ford, team president Rod Wood and general manager Bob Quinn released a joint statement late Wednesday expressing support for head coach Matt Patricia after a sexual assault charge against him from 22 years ago resurfaced in a Detroit News story.
Patricia, in an accompanying statement, denied the accusation, made by a woman while Patricia was a student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on spring break in South Padre Island, Texas, in 1996.
"As someone who was falsely accused of this very serious charge over 22 years ago, and never given the opportunity to defend myself and clear my name, I find it incredibly unfair, disappointing, and frustrating that this story would resurface now with the only purpose being to damage my character and reputation," Patricia said in the statement. "I firmly maintain my innocence, as I have always done. I would never condone any of the behavior that was alleged and will always respect and protect the rights of anyone who has been harassed or is the victim of violence.
"My priorities remain the same -- to move forward and strive to be the best coach, teacher, and man that I can possibly be."
The joint statement from the team's leadership read, in part, that the charge against Patricia "was dismissed by the prosecutor at the request of the complaining individual prior to trial. As a result, Coach Patricia never had the opportunity to present his case or clear his name publicly in a court of law. He has denied that there was any factual basis for the charge. There was no settlement agreement with the complaining individual, no money exchanged hands and there was no confidentiality agreement. In discussions today with Lions management, the reporter involved acknowledged that the allegations have not been substantiated.
"As an organization, the Detroit Lions take allegations regarding sexual assault or harassment seriously. Coach Patricia was the subject of a standard pre-employment background check which did not disclose this issue. We have spoken to Coach Patricia about this at length as well as the attorney who represented him at the time. Based upon everything we have learned, we believe and have accepted Coach Patricia's explanation and we will continue to support him. We will continue to work with our players and the NFL to further awareness of and protections for those individuals who are the victims of sexual assault or violence."
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy on Thursday said the league will review the matter with the Lions "to understand the allegations and what the club has learned."
Charges were filed in the case, and Patricia and his friend, Greg Dietrich, were indicted by a grand jury of one count of aggravated sexual assault, but they were never tried in the case.
Wood told the Detroit News that he and Quinn were not aware of the allegation in Patricia's past when they hired him. Wood later told the newspaper that he was "comfortable" with Patricia on staff.
"I am very comfortable with the process of interviewing and employing Matt," Wood told the News. "I will tell you with 1,000 percent certainty that everything I've learned confirmed what I already knew about the man and would have no way changed our decision to make him our head coach."
The News reported that APG Security, a private investigation firm with corporate headquarters in South Amboy, New Jersey, and offices in 21 states including Texas, requested the court files for Patricia's case in January. It is not clear whether the Lions contacted the firm to run a background check on Patricia or someone else did.
The News reported that the case against Patricia and Dietrich fell apart when the alleged victim did not respond to attempts to contact her in the weeks following the incident and decided she would not testify.
As of Wednesday night, Patricia, 43, was scheduled to talk with the media Thursday before the Lions open their rookie minicamp this weekend.