Mueller Report exposes NFL lapses

Jan 8, 2015, 10:08 PM ET

Less than 36 hours after Ray Rice’s arrest for a brutal assault on his then-fiancée in an elevator of an Atlantic City casino hotel, a New Jersey State Police officer e-mailed an NFL executive about the incident, stating that “it was horrific,” and “it shocked the conscience.”

The NFL’s well-paid and enormous security apparatus rolled into action immediately, according to the Mueller Report released Thursday. Four league security agents tried to gather the facts. Yet they were surprised only three days later when posted something they had yet to find: the now-notorious first video of Rice dragging Janay Palmer out of the elevator.

Within hours of the TMZ report, one of the league’s top investigators, John Raucci, e-mailed the NFL security team that “I have never heard of a casino not having elevator-interior cameras,” a clear recognition that his colleagues must obtain a copy of the video of what happened in the elevator. But a close reading of the Mueller Report shows that the NFL operatives, in an awkward and occasionally clumsy effort, failed to recognize obvious leads, lost track of others, and never obtained the key video.

The actions and inactions may have been a deliberate attempt to shield the league from damaging information, but Robert Mueller’s recounting of events makes it a look a lot more like sheer incompetence.

Mueller, a former FBI director, goes to great lengths to explain how he determines that the league never got the inside-elevator video. This security staff failure led directly to Roger Goodell’s worst blunders in his eight years as commissioner — first to suspend Rice for two games and then, when he finally saw the elevator video, to suspend him indefinitely. In a humiliating reversal, the decision to suspend Rice indefinitely was overruled by arbitrator Barbara Jones, who found that Goodell’s action was an “abuse of discretion.”

In his writing style, Mueller tried to be gentle in his criticism of the NFL security team, but he made it clear that the Atlantic City police had the video, the county prosecutor had the video, the casino had the video, and Rice and his lawyer had the video. Even worse, Mueller reported, the NFL officials never requested the video of any of these four organizations even though they knew from the beginning that it was a critical piece of evidence.

In contrast to the work of the NFL’s enormous security team, attorney Michael Diamondstein, who represented Rice on the assault charge in Atlantic City, immediately requested the elevator video from the Revel casino. When casino officials refused to give him the video, Diamondstein repeated the request and demanded it from the prosecutors as well.

As Diamondstein persisted in his demands, both the casino and the prosecution gave him copies long before TMZ made the video public. A lone lawyer had done what the NFL security team had failed to do.

Even more embarrassing for the NFL was the total willingness of both Diamondstein and Rice, as described by Mueller, to give the video to the NFL, but no one from the NFL ever made the request. The Baltimore Ravens security staff also obtained the video. The team would have been happy to send it to the league, according to Mueller, but, again, there was no request from the NFL.

Mueller’s investigation also shows that the videos should have been available to any investigator willing to invest some time and some shoe leather at the casino. Word of the video of the elevator assault quickly spread among the casino staff, and, according to Mueller, at least “35 to 40 people (of whom 13 had law-enforcement experience) had access” to the security room and the dramatic video of Rice throwing the knockout punch.

Anyone with a phone could have recorded the video and passed it on. The first TMZ report was clearly, according to Mueller, a mobile-phone copy of a video. The casino was in its final days before closing in a bankruptcy, and any of these dozens of employees could have shared their copies of the video.

In another telling description of the failure of the NFL’s investigation, Mueller reports that the NFL’s chief of security, Jeff Miller, met New Jersey State Police officials for lunch and asked about elevator video cameras. The problem: The New Jersey State Police govern only the gaming areas of the casino. The Rice incident began in a restaurant and continued in the hotel elevators. Apparently Miller didn’t know this fact.

The NFL security team members, experienced and skilled former law enforcement officials, knew from the beginning that there would be a video of what happened in the elevator. They knew it was important. Therefore, they had just one job: get a copy of the video and report to Goodell what it showed. But, according to Mueller’s recitation of events, they failed at their jobs. And they left their boss — Goodell — in a position where things could and did go wrong.