Domestic violence charges won't be filed against San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald after his felony arrest in August, the Santa Clara County district attorney announced Monday, saying there was "insufficient evidence" to prosecute him.
"I am relieved that the DA's office has rightfully decided not to file charges," McDonald said in a statement issued through the team, stressing that he "cooperated fully" with the investigation. " I want to thank everyone who was supportive during this difficult time."
The District Attorney's decision - much to the dismay of a leading Silicon Valley domestic violence center - comes more than two months after McDonald's highly publicized, jealousy-fueled fistfight with his pregnant fiancee at his 30th birthday party at his San Jose home Aug. 31. Each blamed the other for the violence, and prosecutors said "verifiable witnesses" could not be found.
Also, no one had significant injuries, and McDonald's fiancee refused to let police take photos of her after she called 911 to report the attack, prosecutors noted in an internal memo released to the public.
"The decision is clear because we have mutual fighting between two parties, each party blaming the other and there are no verifiable eyewitnesses, no one with significant injuries, and no allegation of prior domestic violence by McDonald," Supervising Deputy DA Cindy Seeley Hendrickson and Deputy DA Lindsay Walsh said in the memo. "The fact that the appropriate charging decision is clear does not make it simple or easy. Facts surrounding the incident remain unknown despite extensive investigation."
Both recommended to their boss, DA Jeff Rosen, that he not file charges.
"It was absolutely essential to release this memo," NBC Bay Area Legal Analyst Steven Clark said. "In light of all the NFL domestic violence arrests, especially the Ray Rice video and a national spotlight on the case, if they don't explain their methodology to the public, well, that would have been a big mistake."
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But the mistake, according to Kathleen Krenek, executive director of Next Door Solutions in San Jose, was made by the prosecutors in not charging McDonald. "I don't agree with the decision," she said. "I"m disappointed." She ticked off several reasons for her dismay, including the fact that women don't need to want to press charges for charges to be filed, and it doesn't matter if the woman throws the first punch - the overal size of the "dominant agressor" should be taken into account. "It's a shame," she said. "I don't know what the message is to other women."
McDonald was arrested on a felony charge the day after the party, and spoke little to NBC Bay Area after he was released the next morning and posted $25,000 bail. He had steadfastly denied harming his fiancee.
The 49ers have kept McDonald on the field since his arrest. 49ers Coach Jim Harbaugh has publicly stated he doesn't condone domestic violence, but he wanted due process to play out. On Monday, the team sent out a statement reiterating this, adding that "there will be no change in Ray's status with the team."
The two prosecutors said they interviewed witnesses at the party who said the woman struck McDonald first, and the "evidence shows injuries consistent with restraint and an ensuing scuffle rather than attack," the memo reads.
The memo did offer new details on the nature of the couple's relationship, and a rare window into the in-depth prosecutors' followup investigation that average citizens do not typically get in a standard domestic violence arrest.
"This was investigated to the fullest," Clark said. "The DA gave it the highest scrutiny. You want people to know that you're taking domestic violence seriously. But without a video, they have to be mindful that they had to prove this case in court."
McDonald and his fiancee have been dating since July 2013 and were engaged in February. As of August, the month the fight was reported, the two had lived together "on and off" for 11 months at McDonald's home. She was 10 weeks pregnant at the time of the birthday party.
During the party, women began flirting with McDonald, and he became concerned about texts he was receiving from women he met the night before, the memo says. He called the 49ers' security director, who connected him with San Jose Police Sgt. Sean Pritchard, who was in uniform, possibly on duty and whom McDonald knew from moonlighting as a 49ers security guard. Pritchard told Pritchard that he was afraid the women would show up at his home and cause problems, according to the memo.
The prosecutors noted that this relationship between the football player and the officer posed some conflict of interest problems, but added it would need to be followed up administratively within the department. The prosecutors also said this relationship did not taint the domestic violence investigation.
Some time between 1:50 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. on Aug. 31, one of the women at the party stopped by McDonald's fiancee's room where she was sleeping to say that some women were getting "too friendly" with McDonald, the report states.
The fiancee got up to confront these women. She asked one of the women to "step outside," the memo states.
McDonald got mad that his fiancee was "embarrassing" him, the memo says, and he was concerned with the "aggressive manner" that his fiancee was talking to the other woman, especially because she was pregnant.
McDonald followed his fiancee inside and began calling her names, calling her an "unfit mother," the report states, and threatening to take her baby.
Then a punch flew.
Both McDonald and his fiancee said she threw it, the prosecutors noted. The woman described it as a "single push." McDonald said she hit him "multiple times with a closed fist."
At some point they ended on the couch. She said McDonald threw her. He said they fell.
Then McDonald "grabbed her neck" to remove her from the house, which resulted in a "visible injury." She said she was "fighting back."
McDonald called Pritchard at 2:39 a.m. to say: “I need to get this female out of my house.”
She called 911 two minutes later to say: “Hello. I’d like to press for a domestic violence… My fiancé… He’s trying to pull me out of the house… He’s drunk… I think he’s calling the cops, he, he’s trying to get me out.”
Prosecutors also said there was a previous altercation at McDonald's home that also couldn't be verified. Prosecutors said the May 24 altercation amounted to a he-said-she-said over whether she fired a gun at McDonald, and the issue couldn't be sorted out because of the couple's conflicting and changing stories.
When police arrived and eventually arrested the 49er, prosecutors said, his fiancee said she did not want her boyfriend taken into custody. She just didn't want to be kicked out of the house.
Later, she sent McDonald a text, according to prosecutors: "S--- got way out of hand."