Detroit Lions team president Rod Wood said Saturday that his team followed the law when it came to how it approached the hiring process for first-year head coach Matt Patricia earlier this year, even if they didn't uncover a 22-year-old aggravated sexual assault indictment that has since come to light.
"We always err on the side of hiring a firm who understands all the laws, follows them, state and federal," Wood told ESPN on Saturday, "so that we don't happen upon something that we're not entitled to have nor would we be able to use."
In this case, it meant following both federal law and the state laws of Massachusetts and Michigan. The Fair Credit Reporting Act does not allow felony arrests that did not result in convictions beyond seven years old to be considered in possible employment, so most search firms do not include that information on the background checks they provide to employers -- and that includes the Lions.
This is all in response to a 1996 aggravated sexual assault indictment after an alleged assault in South Padre Island, Texas, on spring break, when Patricia was a 21-year-old student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The indictment was brought by the grand jury, but Patricia never stood trial, and the case was dismissed in January 1997, when the woman who made the accusation declined to testify.
On Thursday, Patricia maintained he believes he did nothing wrong. He declined during the news conference to go into the specifics of that evening.
"I was innocent then, and I am innocent now," Patricia said. "I was falsely accused of something that I did not do."
Wood declined to say what firm the team used for the background check other than to say "they are a well-regarded, national professional background screening company." He also said he was unaware of APG Security, the firm the Detroit News reported this week had requested the indictment and dismissal forms from the Cameron County prosecutor's office in January. Wood said the Lions had not employed that firm for their background check.
Wood knows there are other ways for information like this to be found -- it is publicly available in Nexis searches and on the Cameron County open records website -- but for employment purposes, it could not be considered anyway. And Wood said his franchise wanted to follow the law.
"There might be ways for companies, teams in our case, to find information out about a prospective employee through other means than the legal means," Wood said. "I guess if others wanted to do that, that's their prerogative. I'm only in charge of what the Lions do, and I want to do it the right way."
Additionally, because the Lions were following both Massachusetts and Michigan law, they were not allowed to ask Patricia about any felony or misdemeanor arrests that didn't lead to convictions. By Michigan law, they could have asked about felony arrests, although Ann Arbor, Michigan-based employment attorney Nicholas Roumel told ESPN he wouldn't advise companies to ask about arrests that didn't result in convictions.
Wood did not disclose what questions the franchise asked Patricia other than saying that the answers he gave to their questions were truthful. Wood declined to answer other questions about Patricia and the allegations on Saturday other than the background search and search process.
"There's been a lot of criticism of people interviewing and questions that were asked that are inappropriate, at the combine and et cetera. And we're not one of those teams that are going to do those kind of things, whether it's a player, a coach or an employee," Wood said. "We're following the rules, and I'd rather follow the rules and maybe end up where I'm at, although we're not happy to be dealing with this, there's no doubt about that.
"But I'd rather be doing that than have broken the rules and had an issue that we were in an unlawful position by having some information. So there's no doubt it's a tough spot to be, but I'll take the tough spot by following the rules versus not following the rules and being in an unlawful position."
Wood said they did more than just a standard background check and interview in vetting Patricia. They spoke with coaches who had hired him and worked with and for him, along with players who have played for him. Everything, Wood said, came back positive within the reference checks the team sought.
When asked if he had any regrets with how he and the Lions went through the screening process, Wood said they are always looking at how to improve things.
"I would say I'm always trying to get better and the organization is always trying to get better," Wood said. "But I'm not sure what specific changes, if any, we would make based on this. Always trying to improve every process."