Crime

Ezekiel Elliott's Suspension Appeal Strategy: Go After Credibility of Accuser

Yesterday afternoon, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott officially appealed the six-game suspension the NFL handed him last Friday. His case will be heard by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the same man who decided Elliott's punishment, or someone designated by Goodell, on Aug. 29. The decision on the appeal is final from the league's perspective, but Elliott could choose to pursue the matter in federal court.

This week, Elliott's camp has made its appeal strategy clear: It is going to go after the credibility of Tiffany Thompson, the woman who accused Elliott of domestic violence, painting her as a jilted lover willing to do anything to ruin Elliott's career.

On Monday, Elliott's father, Stacy Elliott, tweeted an excerpt from a Fort Worth Star-Telegram article that highlighted information Ezekiel Elliott's attorneys intend to present at his appeal, including statements from witnesses who heard Thompson yell at Elliott that his "career is over" after he refused to allow her in to his birthday party in July 2016. According to Elliott's team, Thompson also told Elliott: "You are a black male athlete. I'm a white girl. They are not going to believe you." Elliott's legal team claims that because Goodell did not attend Elliott's and Thompson's interviews during the league's investigation, he could not have properly evaluated their stories.

Except for the alleged racial statement, the claims made Monday about Thompson are already part of the record of the investigation by the City Attorney's Office in Columbus, Ohio. Information obtained Tuesday by NFL.com is not.

According to a report from Ian Rapoport, Elliott called Frisco police in September after Thompson called him more than 50 times in a seven-hour period Sept. 5. Elliott told police that Thompson called him from a blocked number and continued calling after he answered several of her calls and told her she was not supposed to be calling him. Elliott also told police that Thompson hacked his email and called phone numbers she found to tell people "untruthful things that could hurt [Elliott's] image." Thompson told league investigators that she contacted women Elliott had been "messing around with," according to Rapoport.

It's unclear how much influence the claims of Elliott and his attorneys will have on the outcome of his appeal. During a conference call after the announcement of Elliott's suspension, league investigators said they considered Thompson's credibility carefully in investigating her claims against Elliott. Although they determinied that Thompson lied and encouraged a witness to lie about an incident, Peter Harvey, a former New Jersey attorney general who sat on the league panel that investigated Elliott, said investigators otherwise found Thompson truthful.

Harvey said Thompson's "false statement that was revealed was she accused Mr. Elliott of yanking her out of a car on July 21 — really it’s the morning of the 22nd because I think it was after midnight. That did not happen," he said. "And she did ask one of her friends to tell the police that it did happen, and the friend had the good sense not to do that. That is true. But as to other statements that she made, both to the Columbus DA as well as to NFL investigators, she was absolutely truthful about them."

Should Elliott lose his appeal and wish to take his challenge to federal court, he'll need to be ready to act. In 2015, after Goodell upheld Tom Brady's four-game suspension for allegedly deflating footballs during the 2014 AFC Championship game, the league immediately filed a preemptive lawsuit against Brady asking the court to ensure that Brady complied with the terms of the suspension.

Because the league filed first, it kept the case in the U.S District Court for the Southern District of New York, a venue that's ruled in favor of the league in previous cases. Brady eventually lost his appeal. If Elliott wants a better venue, he'll need to be ready to file his federal case as soon as the decision in the appeal comes down.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young

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