Twenty-two years ago, a young woman went to police to allege that Matt Patricia—now the head coach of the Detroit Lions—and his college teammate and fraternity brother Greg Dietrich entered her South Padre Island hotel room while she was sleeping and took turns sexually assaulting her. The charges were filed in Cameron County quickly after, in March 1996, during the rowdy spring break period that SPI locals call “Texas Week,” and dropped that August, after, according to the prosecutor, the woman in question said that she didn’t want to face the stress of a trial.
But Patricia, who was hired by the Lions in February after a run as the defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, is once again facing questions about the allegation after a story in the Detroit News revisited the charges. Patricia’s response has been bold: holding a press conference, declaring himself the victim of false allegations, and asking the world to sympathize with him for having to live with these charges. It’s an approach that makes a certain degree of sense for a case in which the accuser hasn’t come forward in decades—but it’s also one that asks the public to view these allegations strictly through the lens of the accused, when the national conversation around sexual assault has evolved.
During the press conference at the Lions’ facility, Patricia took questions about the allegations, which were made against him when he was 21. He repeated multiple times that he was falsely accused. He explained that, after his arrest, what followed was “something that was very traumatic to me” and said, “I lived with the mental torture of a situation where facts can be completely ignored or misrepresented with disregard to the consequence and pain that it would create for another person.” He blamed the Detroit News for reporting on its discovery of the allegations, claiming that it was done “for the sole purpose of hurting my family, my friends, and this organization.” When asked by reporters at the press conference what happened, Patricia insisted, “What’s important here [about] what happened 22 years ago is what didn’t happen. . . . I was innocent then, I am innocent now. I was falsely accused of something I did not do.” When asked why the grand jury returned an indictment, he said that he “went through the process, and the case was dismissed.” When asked if he ever entered the woman’s hotel room, he declined to go into specifics, instead simply stating, “Again, I did nothing wrong, and that’s all I’m going to say on that matter.”
His lawyer has been even more vocal in describing the charges as false. When asked by the Detroit News if Patricia had an alibi, attorney Jeff Wilson told the paper that “his alibi is this was a false accusation” and described the report that led to Patricia’s arrest and indictment as “a fabrication.” He said the victim “recanted the sexual assault allegations multiple times” and insinuated that the woman who went to the police may have done so for an unspecified personal reason. “I don’t know what type of problems the girl was having,” Wilson said, while Dietrich’s lawyer, John Tasolides, said, “The people who make immediate outcries are false accusers many times.” (This is a new spin on the usual victim-shaming argument of “If she was really raped, why did it take her so long to go to the police?”)
Patricia doesn’t have to provide an explanation of exactly what happened that night, since the charges were dismissed. But his response to the Detroit News story is unusual because the situation itself is rare: Patricia faced a serious allegation, substantiated by a grand jury indictment—but he doesn’t face an accuser. Patricia’s lawyer described the situation as “he said, she said,” but in 2018 it’s only “he said.”
The woman who made the allegation, according to the Detroit News, declined to comment to the paper. (Reporter Robert Snell, who broke the story, told Texas Monthly that he discovered the allegation while doing a routine public records search, rather than receiving a tip from a source.) Back in 1996, after the night in question, the woman brought the case to police. According to the Detroit News, she discussed what happened with a detective, an officer, a doctor, a nurse, and at least one friend. But she declined to testify, and the charges were dismissed. The handwritten notes from the assistant district attorney in the case’s dismissal read, “Victim is unable to testify and can not give a date certain when she will be available. Victim does not feel she can face the pressures or stress of a trial. Victim may request that the case be refiled at a later date.”
Since the victim hasn’t spoken about the incident and has had her name redacted from the indictment, the only perspectives available are that of Patricia and his lawyer. Even with the opportunity to offer an unchallenged counter-narrative, however, they’ve declined to comment beyond attacking the credibility and integrity of the woman who went to the police over two decades ago.
Only 37 percent of sexual assaults are reported to police in the first place, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. On South Padre Island—which has averaged between ten and twenty sexual assault cases a year between 2010 and 2016, the only years that data is available from the Texas Department of Public Safety—it’s likely that there are dozens of sexual assaults that are never investigated. The #MeToo movement has helped erase some of the stigma associated with coming forward as a sexual assault survivor over the past several months, but in 1996 the culture worked very differently. And while it’s similarly possible that Patricia was indeed the victim of a false report, the odds of that are even lower. Studies of false reports have found that such cases happen just 2.9 to 7.1 percent of the time.
When asked about the accusation now, Patricia could have simply said that the matter was behind him and emphasized that he had been cleared through the legal process. But that’s not what he’s doing. Patricia doesn’t just want us to believe that the matter is settled and in the past—he wants us to actively identify him as the person who suffered a trauma 22 years ago. By insisting that he was the victim in all of this and that his accuser was lying, there’s a fresh allegation being made that deserves scrutiny: an allegation coming from Patricia, directed at a woman whose name we don’t know.