By Katie Sanders and Aaron Sharockman
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is facing plenty of questions about his handling of a domestic violence investigation into NFL running back Ray Rice, who was suspended indefinitely last week after video showed him hitting his now-wife in an Atlantic City casino elevator.
Mike Wise, a sports columnist for the Washington Post, called for Goodell’s removal on Sunday’s CNN State of the Union, saying that Goodell has mismanaged the Rice investigation.
“The thing that bothered me most is, Roger Goodell at one point tried to play essentially a marriage counselor with the victim and the perpetrator, Janay and Ray Rice,” Wise told host Candy Crowley. “He put the victim and the perpetrator together. Every domestic violence agency, every law enforcement agency, that’s a no-no.”
PunditFact wanted to check Wise’s assertion that Goodell interviewed victim Janay Rice in Ray Rice’s presence, and whether that’s a “no-no” for law enforcement agencies.
Wise’s claim rates Mostly True.
While we were unable to find an on-the-record admission that the meeting occurred, it’s been widely reported and not refuted by the NFL.
The meeting took place June 16 at the NFL’s headquarters in New York, three months after a New Jersey grand jury indicted Rice on charges of third-degree aggravated assault from the elevator incident. Ray Rice, who married Janay Rice on March 28, was accepted into a pretrial intervention program to avoid time behind bars in May.
The purpose of the mid-June meeting was to discuss disciplinary action by the NFL. Sports Illustrated’s Peter King broke the first details about the meeting, citing anonymous inside sources that the NFL has not contradicted.
The meeting included not just Goodell and Ray and Janay Rice, but also Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome, Ravens President Dick Cass, and two NFL executives, King reported. In the meeting, Janay Rice asked Goodell to be lenient to Ray Rice, the source told King, saying major discipline could ruin the running back’s career.
Would law enforcement officials or domestic violence agencies conduct a similar meeting?
For the most part, no.
Ruth M. Glenn, interim executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said Goodell should not have talked to Janay Rice in front of her husband.
“When that incident is being reviewed, investigated, whatever it is, there should never be an opportunity where that inquiry occurs when they’re both present,” Glenn said. “Absolutely, it doesn’t make it any different if it had happened a day before.”
Glenn said the domestic violence prevention community has pushed for years for law enforcement agencies to adopt policies that call for interviewing victims and suspects separately.
We found plenty of examples of law enforcement agencies that expressly say to separate the victim, suspect and witnesses involved in the dispute, including Santa Clara County (Calif.), Kentucky, Michigan, South Carolina and New Jersey. (We didn’t have time to check each district or state by our deadline, and the U.S. Department of Justice did not offer a comment, but we are comfortable saying this policy is widespread.)
There are some notable caveats, however.
While separation may be required in the immediate aftermath of a domestic violence incident, it isn’t always maintained throughout the legal process, said Charles H. Rose III, Stetson University College of Law professor. Sometimes couples in domestic violence cases are interviewed together so officials can judge how they act with one another.
“By the time Goodell was involved it was no longer necessary to have them be interviewed apart,” Rose said. “In effect, the wagons had already been circled.”
Also left unsaid by Wise: Goodell was not initiating a law enforcement investigation. That already had occurred. Experts we talked to said the comparison between Goodell and law enforcement may not necessarily be apt.
Goodell’s goal for talking with Ray and Janay Rice may not have been analogous with a law enforcement investigation, said James Acker, a University at Albany-SUNY School of Criminal Justice professor.
“If it was, then for the same reasons, such a joint discussion would not likely be appropriate,” Acker said. “On the other hand, for all I know, the context was quite different. Perhaps Goodell already had received a factual account elsewhere; perhaps he wanted to attempt to gauge the Rices' relationship and try to form an impression of them together.”
The Sunday shows also continued to devote serious time to the situation in Iraq and Syria and the rise of the Islamic State, often called ISIL or ISIS.
For some, it was another situation of President Barack Obama’s words coming back to haunt him. Obama already has had to explain away comments linking the Islamic State to a junior varsity team.
In this case, pundits questioned Obama’s new plan to arm and train moderate opposition in Syria to help eliminate the Islamic State.
“The president referred to the Syrian opposition just a few months ago as pharmacists and doctors, and so on,” former CIA director and retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden said on Fox News Sunday. “We've turned on the dime in terms of our expectation for them.”
In this case, we checked whether Obama described the Syrian rebels as "pharmacists and doctors," not whether the rebels actually are pharmacists or doctors.
Hayden’s claim rates True.
We found several examples of Obama, as recently as June and August, characterizing the Syrian rebels as pharmacists and doctors, as well as dentists, radio reporters and teachers.
In an August interview with the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, Obama was asked about why he had not chosen to arm the Syrian rebels.
“This idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth, and that they were going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state but also a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah, that was never in the cards,” Obama told Friedman.
In June, Obama made similar comments in an interview with CBS.
“When you get farmers, dentists and folks who have never fought before going up against a ruthless opposition in (Bashar al-)Assad, the notion that they were in a position suddenly to overturn not only Assad but also ruthless, highly trained jihadists if we just sent a few arms is a fantasy,” Obama said.
We should note that Obama’s statements were in the context of the opposition fighting Assad, Syria’s dictator, not the Islamic State, but that does not make Hayden’s claim any less correct.
Steve Contorno and Derek Tsang contributed to this report. Read the full fact-checks at PunditFact.com.