Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy will not be charged for his role in a February bar brawl that left two-off duty Philadelphia police officers hospitalized.
Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams made that announcement during a Monday afternoon news conference, saying there was “insufficient evidence” to charge anyone involved in the fight at Recess Lounge in the early morning hours of Feb. 7.
Williams confirmed that at about 2:45 a.m. on Super Bowl Sunday, a fight broke out inside the club over ownership of a bottle of champagne. Exactly how that fight started, however, remains unclear.
“While it is clear that a physical altercation took place and several people were injured, there is insufficient credible evidence to determine which of the participants was the initial aggressor, or whether some participants were acting in self defense or in the reasonable defense of another,” Williams said.
The officers who were injured, Darnell Jessie and Roland Butler, both gave conflicting reports of how the fight started, Williams said. Both also declined to press charges that night when asked by uniformed officers outside the club if they wished to do so, and declined medical attention at the scene. Instead, they drove themselves to separate hospitals, with Jessie getting stitches above his left eye and being treated for a possible skull fracture. Butler, meanwhile, suffered broken ribs, a broken nose, and a sprained thumb.
Williams added that in the immediate aftermath of the fight, Jessie didn’t know he was hurt or how it happened.
A total of 44 interviews with 27 individuals were conducted during the course of the extensive investigation, which began in the days after the fight and did not conclude until last week. A visit to Recess Lounge and the examination of medical records of multiple participants in addition to the review of photographs and video footage was also part of the investigation, Williams said.
In numerous statements to police and assistant district attorneys, multiple participants misidentified who was present and participated in the fight.
“People ask us, ‘What took so long?’ Well, every time you asked one person what happened, they’d give us two more people to go talk to,” said Williams, who thanked the public for its patience. “This is the conclusion that we came to.”
Because an arrest was not made immediately following the altercation, the Philadelphia DA’s Office was required to perform its own investigation before an arrest warrant could be approved. Because Jessie and Butler had differing accounts on how the fight started, it would have been difficult for the prosecution to prove that those being investigated were not acting either in self-defense or the defense of others.
“It’s imperative that I stress to all of you that my investigation, and my job in this investigation, was not to decide if anyone acted appropriately or not,” Williams said. “I do not condone bar fights. My job was to determine if evidence exists to charge any individual with a crime. And I do that by looking at – by examining – all of the facts. And the facts have shown me there is not enough evidence to meet the legal threshold to issue charges.”
Surveillance cameras inside the club were not operational at the time, and although several videos of the fight were captured on cellphones, Williams said none of them contain the actual start of it.
One of the officers put his hands on the collar of one of McCoy’s friends during an argument over the ownership of the champagne bottle, Williams said, and the two of them ended up on the ground. Both officers were interviewed by investigators, while McCoy was the only member of his group to do so.
In one of the videos from inside the club, which was published by TMZ Sports, a person believed to be McCoy is shown throwing a punch.
“Mr. McCoy, as you’ve seen on TMZ, at one point in the bar, goes over to where people are on the ground,” Williams said. “He’d offered, through his attorney, his explanation of what had happened – what he saw. He saw his friend on the ground with someone with their hands around his friend’s throat. So he went over there to protect his friend.”
Because of that, Williams concluded that there was insufficient evidence to charge McCoy for “assaultive behavior.”
That conclusion was met with stiff pushback from a representative of the city’s police force.
“Apparently, assaults recorded on video are prosecuted everywhere except in Philadelphia, particularly when the victims are police officers,” John McNesby, president of the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police, wrote in a letter to members. “In Philadelphia, a vicious assault on off-duty police officers by a rich athlete and his friends goes completely unpunished. Serious and permanent injuries were inflicted on these officers as a result of a brutal assault captured on film, but a season-ticket hunting District Attorney refuses to do his sworn job and prosecute the attackers.”
Williams, however, was firm that his investigation was conducted fairly to both sides.
“I respect John McNesby. He is a phenomenal advocate for his members,” Williams said. “But I don’t make decisions based on politics. We’re not making this decision based on who’s going to be happy or who’s going to be upset or who a potential victim or potential defendant was. That would be wrong for us.
“All I can say is we attempted to be fair and to be neutral. Not to be driven by our passions either to defend or prosecute anyone. … I think people that are in law enforcement that recognize how we have to do our job and to examine the facts in a dispassionate and an impartial way will say we did the right things. But there will be people that say the opposite.”
Williams, who until Monday had stayed largely quiet regarding developments in the case, said he’s “very satisfied that we did the right thing.”
“It would have been much easier to make people happy and to have them maybe have a parade down the street for me, but that’s not why we’re here,” he said. “It’s our job to charge the right people and only charge them with the right crimes, nothing more, nothing less.”
While the specter of criminal charges is behind him, McCoy is not totally in the clear yet. The possibility of a civil lawsuit against him still exists, as does discipline from the NFL.
The league’s personal conduct policy, which was revised in December 2014, says that in cases where players “are not charged with a crime, or are charged but not convicted, you may still be found to have violated the Policy if the credible evidence establishes that you engaged in conduct prohibited by the Personal Conduct Policy.”
So McCoy remains at the mercy of the NFL, which is investigating the matter and has not put a timetable on when that investigation will conclude.
McCoy spent the first six years of his career in Philadelphia before being traded to the Bills just over a year ago. He made the Pro Bowl in his first season in Buffalo despite missing four games because of injuries, finishing with 1,187 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns.