Georgia DA: Roethlisberger will not be charged
MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. — Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Fred Bright will not charge Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, following allegations that he sexually assaulted a female college student.
"The sexual allegation against Mr. Roethlisberger cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt," Bright said in a news conference this afternoon. "Therefore, there will be no arrest made nor criminal prosecution of Mr. Roethlisberger for his actions here on March 5."
Bright said his decision is "final" and "wasn't going to change." He said he "knew pretty early on the way this case was going."
Roethlisberger's legal team said it was the right call.
"During the course of this matter, from the day the investigation began, we have supplied relevant information to the district attorney," said Roethlisberger's Atlanta attorney, Edward T.M. Garland. "We urged the district attorney to investigate the matter fully, and we are pleased to see that he has done so.
"Fortunately, the district attorney made sure that the system worked the way it is supposed to work."
The accuser did not want to press charges, Bright said.
The decision to drop the criminal investigation might not quash an National Football League-mandated suspension or fine.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Commissioner Roger Goodell would meet with Roethlisberger "privately, at the appropriate time."
"We are not going to be more specific than that," Aiello said.
In a prepared statement, Steelers president Art Rooney II said he met with Roethlisberger "on a number of occasions, not only to discuss this incident but also to discuss his commitment to making sure something like this never happens again."
"The Pittsburgh Steelers take conduct of players and staff very seriously. Ben will now have to work hard to earn back the respect and trust of Steelers fans, and to live up to the leadership responsibilities we all expect of him," Rooney said.
After Roethlisberger meets with Goodell, "our organization will determine the next steps in this process," Rooney said.
Union spokesman Carl Francis said the National Football Players Association would monitor Roethlisberger's fate.
"We could play a role, depending on his discussions with the commissioner," said Francis. "At this point, we have no perspective on his case. We have to wait to hear the results of his discussion with the commissioner or any action by the club."
The 20-year-old woman told police Roethlisberger assaulted her in the bathroom of a nightclub after an evening of bar-hopping with friends to celebrate his 28th birthday.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Bright, an assistant prosecutor since 1981 and the district attorney for the eight-county circuit since 1994, released documents from the investigation, including a letter from the woman's attorneys.
The letter sent to Bright on March 17 by David F. Walbert and his partner, Lee Parks Jr., asked Bright to drop the case.
The Tribune-Review does not name alleged victims of sexual assault. Bright described her as a "nice lady, from a nice family" in the northern Atlanta suburbs who never recanted her unproven allegations.
"What is obvious in looking forward is that a criminal trial would be a very intrusive personal experience for a complainant in this situation, given the extraordinary media attention that would be inevitable," Walbert wrote.
"The media coverage to date, and the efforts of the media to access our client, have been unnerving, to say the least."
In a statement released shortly after the press conference, Parks said he appreciated the prosecutor's decision not to continue the case because it would have become "a media circus."
Bright, Milledgeville Police Chief Woodrow Blue and Ed Davis, the special agent in charge of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's Baldwin County branch, detailed sordid aspects of Roethlisberger's liquor-fueled romp that culminated in a small, dingy staff restroom near the "VIP" room of the Capital City, a popular nightclub.
Bright said Roethlisberger met the young woman at the Velvet Elvis, a bar about 30 miles south of the quarterback's lakeside mansion. One of her sorority sisters was a Steelers fan and knew what Roethlisberger looked like, according to Bright.
Bright said the woman wore a reading "DTF," signaling a willingness to engage in sexual intercourse, and that piqued Roethlisberger's interest and triggered conversations, "some of a sexual nature," throughout the evening.
With a bar employee plopping shots of liquor before Roethlisberger, his entourage and young women admitted to the VIP room throughout the night — Big Ben's two burly bodyguards barred any men — by the early hours of March 5, the accuser "was highly intoxicated," according to Bright.
One of Roethlisberger's bodyguards guided the woman down a narrow hallway into the restroom, perhaps because she felt ill, and the quarterback followed her. No security cameras or witnesses were able to detail what happened in there, and Bright conceded that details remained "foggy."
"Significant questions about what occurred persist," said Bright.
Bright said conflicting stories surrounded what transpired behind a thin, black curtain separating the dance floor from the restroom.
One of the accuser's sorority sisters and another friend who was ejected from the VIP room said they told the bar's manager and the quarterback's bodyguards that their friend was too drunk to remain in there.
But none of Roethlisberger's party told authorities that anything sexual happened between the quarterback and his accuser. The tavern manager told the young women that they could "check on her" by going through a downstairs hallway, but they didn't do so, according to Bright.
Citing the underage drinking, Roethlisberger's boorish behavior and the actions of some of his entourage, Bright found plenty of blame to go around for the scandal that followed.
"There was too much drinking going on," said Bright. "If he were my son, the best way I could answer it is, 'Ben, grow up. Come on. You're supposed to stand for something. You're the leader. You should be a role model. You don't need to put yourself in this position anymore.'"
Two of the woman's Zeta Tau Alpha sorority sisters discovered her about a block away from the Capital City around 2:30 a.m., shortly after the downtown taverns began closing. They flagged down a Milledgeville officer and the investigation began.
The intoxicated young woman at first told authorities no rape occurred, but later statements given when she was sober suggested that she had been.
In his brief statement to Milledgeville investigators before invoking his right to seek legal counsel, Roethlisberger said the inebriated woman might have fallen and hurt her head.
An Oconee Regional Medical Center emergency room doctor and two nurses determined that there was "a superficial laceration and bruising and slight bleeding in the genital area," but that everything else in their report was "normal," according to Bright, and that the physician could not deduce if they were from "any kind of trauma or sexual assault."
Bright said the rape kit collected from the young accuser "found no evidence of semen or discharge." Initial testing by GBI crime lab analysts in Atlanta found that "human male DNA" was present, but additional tests "would not yield a profile" that could be compared to Roethlisberger, and the collected material was "so minute" that no further analysis could be performed, according to Bright.Additional Information:
Statement from Art Rooney II
'The investigation process in Georgia has been deliberate and the District Attorney's decision regarding Ben Roethlisberger speaks for itself.'
'During the past few weeks I have met with Ben on a number of occasions, not only to discuss this incident but also to discuss his commitment to making sure something like this never happens again. The Pittsburgh Steelers take conduct of players and staff very seriously. Ben will now have to work hard to earn back the respect and trust of Steelers fans, and to live up to the leadership responsibilities we all expect of him.'
'In the coming days Ben will meet with Commissioner Goodell to discuss his resolve to abide by the league's personal conduct standards. After consultation with the Commissioner, our organization will determine the next steps in this process.'Additional Information:
Statement from Ben Roethlisberger
From the prepared statement read in the locker room at the Steelers practice facility.
'I'd like to begin by expressing gratitude for the thorough investigation process in Georgia and the prosecutor's decision not to bring charges. I know without a doubt it was the right conclusion.
'I don't intend to discuss any of the events in Georgia and I'm happy to put this behind me and move forward. I am truly sorry for the disappointment and negative attention I have brought to my family, my teammates, my coaches, the Rooneys and the NFL.'
'I understand that the opportunities I have been blessed with are a privilege and that much is expected to be as quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I absolutely want to be the leader this team deserves, valued in the community and a role model to kids. I have much work to do to earn this trust and I'm committed to improving and showing everyone my true values.
'I am excited to get back to work with my teammates and I'm more determined than ever to have a great season. I intend to make my family, friends and the Steelers Nation proud on all fronts. Thank you and God bless.'