Los Angeles (AFP) – Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia hit back Thursday following the emergence of a 1996 sexual assault case which was later dropped.
Patricia, who took over as Lions head coach in February after five years at the New England Patriots, told reporters he was “innocent then, and innocent now.”
“I’m here to defend my honour and clear my name,” Patricia read from a statement. “Twenty-two years ago I was falsely accused of some serious allegations. There are claims made about me that never happened.
“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. I firmly maintain my innocence, as I have always done.
“Truth is on my side. I was innocent then and I’m innocent now.”
The Detroit News on Wednesday published a report revealing that Patricia was accused of sexually assaulting a 21-year-old woman while he was a student.
According to the news report, Patricia, who was 21, and a friend, Greg Dietrich, 22, entered the woman’s hotel room during a spring break trip in Texas and “took turns violently sexually assaulting her.”
Both men were charged by a grand jury with aggravated sexual assault.
The case was dismissed in January 1997 after the woman withdrew her allegation, citing a reluctance to undergo the stress of a trial.
Patricia told reporters on Wednesday the case had not been discussed during his interview process for the Lions job.
“I started interviewing for jobs 22 years ago,” Patricia said. “It was never an issue. The case was dismissed and I’m innocent.”
Asked to comment on the specifics of the incident he added: “I think what happened here is what didn’t happen. I was innocent then and I’m innocent now. I was falsely accused of something I didn’t do.”
Asked if he had had consensual sex with the accuser, he replied: “I did nothing wrong and that’s all I’m going to say on the matter.”
The Lions meanwhile have issued a statement strongly supporting Patricia.
Team owner Martha Firestone Ford, general manager Bob Quinn, and team president Rod Wood said they had no reason to doubt Patricia.
“Based upon everything we have learned, we believe and have accepted Coach Patricia’s explanation and we will continue to support him,” the joint statement said.
The statement noted there had been no settlement agreement with the woman making the allegation, that no money exchanged hands and there was no confidentiality agreement.