Kansas City Chiefs

It’s complicated: Latest turns in Tyreek Hill saga leave more questions than answers

No charges for Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill after investigation

The Johnson County District Attorney said he won't file charges against Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill or Hill's fiancee Crystal Espinal. It was the latest off-the-field development for Hill, who has a history of domestic violence.
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The Johnson County District Attorney said he won't file charges against Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill or Hill's fiancee Crystal Espinal. It was the latest off-the-field development for Hill, who has a history of domestic violence.

Unless the murmurs are yet another illusion, any minute now the NFL will rule on the status of Chiefs’ star Tyreek Hill.

Congratulations if you think you know what to think about him and what to expect now. But brace yourself for a trap door ahead falling open into another hall of mirrors.

Because the only thing clear about this whole distressing affair is that it has become defined by its twists and the force-field around it beyond the only two people who really know anything.

And woe be to those like me, who embraced a false flash of clarity in the fog — in my case, in the form of a sensationalized audio snippet.

Probably to a fault, I pride myself on restraint and nuance and taking a step back in this job. If your Mama says she loves you, check it out, I was taught. Don’t go past your own headlights.

But I submitted to a snap judgment on fragmentary information when I heard Hill say “you need to be terrified of me, too, dumb bitch” and then wrote a column with the headline, “If the Chiefs care about honor and decency, Tyreek Hill can’t be part of this team.”

Particularly because they were stated to the woman (Crystal Espinal) Hill has pleaded guilty to abusing in the past, those appalling words still resonate. They make Hill’s presence here loaded and problematic to me.

They still feel like a red line crossed … even if I now can’t quite reconcile what I think the consequence should be when it comes to the player who has essentially been suspended by the Chiefs since the April night that part of the audio was released.

Because of everything else it included, those words just stand out in a different sort of way in the full audio released Tuesday by 610 AM — full audio that reframed the misleading abridged version(s) originally played by KCTV-5. The edited clips muted the reality of Espinal’s repeated goading during the complete audio.

That, though, was just the latest bafflement in this miserable saga made all the more unsavory by misdirection and leaked scraps of truth.

No one in positions of knowledge is speaking publicly with so much at stake for so many and confidentiality at a premium among law enforcement, attorneys and especially the Kansas Department for Children and Families.

Those who do speak might come to regret it, like Chiefs coach Andy Reid did when he mistakenly said in April that Johnson County district attorney Steve Howe had reopened an investigation involving Hill and Espinal and the treatment of their 3-year-old son.

Just the same, Howe inexplicably declined to clarify if the investigation had been reopened when asked by The Star that day in April and at times in between. He finally corrected the record on June 7 … some seven weeks after Reid spoke.

All of this is evoking Orwellian stuff to me, like “how do we know that two and two make four?” and the notion of “doublethink” as “holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”

Because I don’t know of anything I’ve thought about more in the last few months even as I no longer know what to think as multiple plausible scenarios ricochet around my head.

Confusion reigned from the start when the then-engaged couple in March became involved in investigations of child abuse and neglect by law enforcement and the Kansas Department for Children and Families, leading to the loss of custody of their 3-year-old son.

It’s still not publicly known who has custody of the boy, and Hill and Espinal have an ongoing case with the DCF.

Meanwhile, the latest surprising turn emerged Thursday with the revelation that Espinal had filed a petition in Johnson County seeking to prove Hill is the father of her newborn twins, who are residing with her. The filing also states that Espinal and Hill “are not married, never have been married, and do not intend to be married.”

That would seem a good thing. This is a toxic relationship, going back to a month before the night in December 2014 that led to Hill pleading guilty to domestic assault and battery by strangulation of Espinal. On Nov. 3, Hill called 911 in Stillwater, Oklahoma, because he wanted Espinal out of his apartment amid an argument — a circumstance that was similarly cited by Espinal as the start of the incident on the night that changed both their lives forever.

It was a worrisome thing on many levels when they got back together last year. At the time, Hill appeared on a redemptive track, having completed his three-year deferred sentence from the only notable trouble he’s known to have been in despite growing up in tough circumstances.

Now, in this Bizarro World framework, a #freetyreek crowd has seized on part of the new audio it perceives as Hill proclaiming his innocence in the 2014 incident: He denies picking her up and slamming her, stressing that he “put (Espinal) out my door.” When he asks her repeatedly if he hit her, she doesn’t say yes, but says, “Where did the bruises come from?”

Some in the online courtroom have used that as a springboard to point out that Hill’s then-attorney, Cheryl Ramsey, asked Espinal in the preliminary hearing if she had a history of self-mutilation, cutting herself or bruising herself. Espinal said no to all three before the objection of Espinal’s attorney was sustained by Judge Katherine E. Thomas.

While it’s not remotely an established fact, that sort of unsubstantiated insinuation might make the mind wander.

As might what Hill’s birth father, Derrick Shaw, said in an interview three years ago. The night before the trial was scheduled in August 2015 in Stillwater, Shaw said he believed Hill would fight the charge.

He was stunned to see on SportsCenter the next night that Hill, who grew up with his paternal grandparents, had pleaded guilty.

Shaw said Hill told him that he was advised, either by his then-agent and/or attorney Jay Husbands (who replaced Ramsey when Hill failed to meet “monetary obligations,” The Oklahoman reported) that pleading guilty and accepting the three-year deferred sentence was the best way to make sure he avoided jail.

The family, Shaw said, didn’t want him to do that because they believed in his innocence and anticipated what the plea would mean going forward.

“It’s always going to follow him,” Shaw said in 2016, “and that’s what I don’t want.”

But hold on before you assume all this means, presto, Hill was innocent in 2014.

Even based on his own words on the tape.

Hill didn’t answer Espinal when she asked where the bruises came from, for instance, and the police report from that night observed injuries to her left eye, upper lip, neck and right cheek. To assume Hill didn’t do that it is to assume that Espinal did that all to herself — an ultimate blame-the-victim notion that is unconscionable without serious proof.

Moreover, a domestic violence expert noted that it’s common for abusers to parse their words. For example, Hill doesn’t say how he picked her up and moved her out of the room in a case that later included him confessing to choking her.

But the real point here is that this merely was on a tape made by Espinal, not under oath in a court. And while it’s not unreasonable to consider that Hill could have pleaded guilty even if he weren’t, you also can’t just throw this out:

Four years ago next month, Hill was sworn in at the Payne County Courthouse and asked how he pleaded to the charge of domestic assault and battery by strangulation. After pleading guilty, he was then asked to explain in his own words what he had done to his then-pregnant girlfriend, Espinal.

“I did something that I shouldn’t have done that night, which was I just let my feelings take control of me,” Hill responded. “I wasn’t thinking. I just reacted and hit her, choked her. I’m real sorry for that.”

Whatever else we know and don’t know about what’s happened, and regardless of the legal point that the conviction last year was ordered expunged from his court record, that original plea can’t be unheard and ignored in the context of the menacing words he says on the tape.

In a four-page letter to the NFL defending Hill, Trey Pettlon, Hill’s attorney, called those words “inexcusable” even as he called them inconsistent with Hill’s other recent conversations with Espinal.

For all the other sound and fury, that still hovers over this to me.

As for what should be done about it, pardon me if I’m still thinking about that.

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Vahe Gregorian has been a sports columnist for The Kansas City Star since 2013 after 25 years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He has covered a wide spectrum of sports, including 10 Olympics. Vahe was an English major at the University of Pennsylvania and earned his master’s degree at Mizzou.
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