Lions coach Matt Patricia indicted, not prosecuted in '96 sex assault

The Detroit Lions head coach said in a statement Wednesday night that he was "falsely accused."

Tresa Baldas
Detroit Free Press
View Comments
GM Bob Quinn introduces new Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia Wednesday, February 7, 2018 at the practice facility in Allen Park.

With the #MeToo movement in full force, Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia has landed in the middle of a scandal — not for any recent actions, but for an alleged sex assault in 1996 during a college spring break trip.

According to Texas court records, Patricia was charged with aggravated sexual assault, but he was never prosecuted for it. The case — which involved claims that Patricia and a football buddy sexually assaulted a college student in a hotel room — was quickly dismissed. 

According to records in Cameron County Circuit Court, Patricia was indicted in August of 1996. The case was dismissed five months later, in January of 1997.

Greg Dietrich, Patricia’s friend and former college teammate at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, also was accused in the sexual assault and was not prosecuted. 

Lions coach Matt Patricia:I was 'falsely accused' of sexual assault

More:2 ex-Detroit Lions employees sue: We were discriminated against, fired

Patricia issued a statement Wednesday night in which he said he was "falsely accused."

"As someone who was falsely accused of this very serious charge over 22 years ago, and never given the opportunity to defend myself and clear my name, I find it incredibly unfair, disappointing, and frustrating that this story would resurface now with the only purpose being to damage my character and reputation," the statement read. "I firmly maintain my innocence, as I have always done.

“I would never condone any of the behavior that was alleged and will always respect and protect the rights of anyone who has been harassed or is the victim of violence. My priorities remain the same — to move forward and strive to be the best coach, teacher, and man that I can possibly be.”

Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford, team president Rod Wood and general manager Bob Quinn issued a joint statement in which they said Patricia's standard pre-employment background check did not disclose the issue. 

"We have spoken to Coach Patricia about this at length as well as the attorney who represented him at the time. Based upon everything we have learned, we believe and have accepted Coach Patricia’s explanation and we will continue to support him."

Patricia’s attorney from the case, Jeff Wilson, said the case is “not newsworthy.”

“I’ll have to talk to Matt at this point in time,” Wilson said. “I’m not talking to anybody else unless he wants me to. So that’s the bottom line. I’ll have to talk to him and talk to the Lions and go from there.”

Asked if Patricia did anything wrong in the incident, Wilson said, “I’m not saying anything. I’m tired of talking to people. So just I’ll talk to Matt and then you probably need to make contact with the Detroit Lions from now on.”

Dietrich did not respond to a message left on his cell phone, and a woman answering the phone at his home said he was not available before hanging up on a reporter.

Dietrich's attorney in the case was Sheldon Weisfield. Reached by phone late Wednesday, he would only say:

"I don’t remember the case and you can’t refresh my recollection. That was 20 years ago," Weisfield said, noting he handles many criminal cases. "They all run together. I don't recollect that case."

According to a 1996 article by the Brownsville (Texas) Herald, the alleged victim was a college student on spring break at South Padre Island.

According to the newspaper, Patricia and Dietrich burst into a room at the Radisson hotel and took turns assaulting the student, whom had befriended them on the beach.  

South Padre Island Police Chief E. E. Eunice told the Herald that the victim told police she was sleeping in a friend's room when she was awakened by Patricia and Dietrich.

"They were also students and casual friends," Eunice told the newspaper in 1996.  "She told us she had palled around with them for a few days."

According to the newspaper, the incident happened at about 6 p.m. and both Patricia, then 22, and Dietrich, then 21, were arrested later that same night after the victim identified them. They were charged with sexual assault and released on bond.

The Lions hired Patricia as the 27th head coach in team history on Feb. 5, a day after the New England Patriots lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII.

Patricia spent 14 seasons with the Patriots, the only other NFL team he’s worked for, and was the team’s defensive coordinator the past six seasons.

The Lions interviewed five other candidates during the search process, but focused their efforts on landing Patricia from the start.

Patricia and Lions general manager Bob Quinn spent 12 seasons working together in New England, and often went on scouting trips together during the offseason.

More:Bob Quinn was selling Detroit Lions on Matt Patricia 2 years before hiring him

"When we set out (on our coaching search), we had a list of qualities that we wanted to make sure that the new head coach had and those were integrity, leadership, intelligence, work ethic, and being innovative in all aspects of the football operation," Quinn said at the news conference to announce Patricia's hiring. "After our initial meeting with Matt, it was clear that he fit those qualities. I feel very confident that Matt’s the right head coach for the Detroit Lions."

As well regarded as he was by his colleagues, former players and opponents for his football acumen, Patricia also was known for his engaging personality.

In college, Patricia was a member of the Theta Chi fraternity, along with many other RPI football players, and friends told the Free Press earlier this year that he was someone who “enjoyed the social setting” and being around friends.

“We just wanted to hang out with each other, whether that was playing spades or aces or watching Monday Night Football or having a dance party, whatever it may be,” said Ray Moran, Patricia’s former teammate, coach and frat brother at RPI. “We were all really tight, and especially the fraternity guys, were extraordinarily tight, and the football guys were really tight. I don’t think we ever mis-enjoyed a moment together.”

After college and a year as a graduate assistant coach at RPI, Patricia spent two years as an engineer before returning to football.

He worked as an assistant coach at Amherst College for two seasons and then spent three years as a graduate assistant at Syracuse University before joining the Patriots as a low-level assistant.

In Detroit, Patricia has stressed building a smart, physical football team the right way, and doing so while instilling a family atmosphere in the locker room.

"(I was) raised in an Italian household, so one phone call and it’s 30 people at a birthday party and they’re all immediate relatives," Patricia said at the NFL annual meeting in March. "So I enjoy that atmosphere. That’s the way to me, again, in addition to teaching, the reason I left engineering to get back into football is cause I just think that’s the one game that really preaches that. It preaches kind of that unity, that team, that family atmosphere.

"And I’ve just always found that the more I invest in people and the more that people invest in me, the harder I think you work for them, and I think the harder they work for you. So that’s important to me. And again, I enjoy those relationships a lot. They’re very important to me. A lot of the year during the season I spend more time with them than I do my own family, which is not necessarily right, it’s just kind of what it is. So I definitely want to have people around me that are family. That’s just kind of what’s important."

Detroit Free Press reporter Dave Birkett contributed to this story

View Comments