A monthslong investigation by former FBI director Robert Mueller determined that there was no evidence that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell saw the video of running back Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee before the video became public on Sept. 8.
Mueller's 96-page report, which was commissioned by the NFL and released online Thursday afternoon, criticized how the football league handled the situation and said it should have been more thorough in its initial investigation.
Goodell initially suspended Rice for two games in July, a decision that touched off a firestorm of criticism of the NFL's response to domestic violence.
In August, Goodell announced stiffer penalties for domestic violence and admitted that he "didn't get it right" when he suspended Rice for only two games.
After the video was posted on TMZSports.com in September, the Baltimore Ravens released Rice. Goodell then suspended Rice indefinitely, saying that he was not forthcoming about how Janay Palmer, whom Rice has since married, was rendered unconscious in the Feb. 15 incident at the Revel Casino in Atlantic City. Rice successfully appealed the suspension, but has not been signed by another team.
"We found no evidence that anyone at the NFL had or saw the in-elevator video before it was publicly shown," Mueller said in a summary that accompanied the report. Mueller was not available to reporters after the release of his report.
Mueller's investigation also rebutted an Associated Press report in September that said a copy of the video was mailed to NFL offices in Manhattan in April, and that a woman from the league office confirmed receipt of the video in a voice mail to a law enforcement official. The voice mail was left on a cellphone number that no longer exists.
"We also found no evidence that a woman at the NFL acknowledged receipt of that video in a voicemail message on April 9, 2014," according to the report. "Investigators traced every outgoing phone call from the NFL, and took several other investigative actions that are detailed in the report. The investigators interviewed every female employee, contractor or vendor whose electronic badge recorded that she was in the League's main office on that day. The investigation found no evidence that the NFL received the in-elevator video before its public release on September 8, 2014."
Mueller's report also found that the Ravens were told in late February by Atlantic City police what was in the video, but that the team did not disclose the information to the league office.
The report said the NFL could easily have gotten more information about the contents of the video -- and thus could have known about Rice's punch to Palmer's face that knocked her unconscious.
The NFL had "substantial information suggesting a serious event had occurred inside the elevator that the league should have further investigated," according to the report. "Had the League done so, it may have uncovered additional information about the incident, possibly including the in-elevator video prior to its public release."
Mueller was hired by the NFL to investigate the league's handling of evidence in the Rice case, and in a statement accompanying the report, he said he was "acting with full independence from the NFL."
Mueller said he and his colleagues reviewed "millions of documents, emails, text messages and electronic data logs and interviewed more than 200 NFL employees and contractors. Digital forensics experts searched computers and mobile phones of the league's senior executives, including Commissioner Roger Goodell, for any digital evidence of the in-elevator video."
The report noted several shortcomings of the NFL's investigative procedures in the Rice case, and other cases involving players who have been involved in domestic violence incidents. Mueller also suggested the league provide more training and better supervision for NFL investigators, create a special investigative team for domestic violence and sexual abuse cases, and that the league share more information with its 32 teams during investigations.
In a statement released after the report was made public, Goodell said he and the NFL "accept his findings and recommendations. . . . We have already addressed many of these points in the revisions to the Personal Conduct Policy that were announced last month. . . . While this investigation has now concluded, our focus on the underlying issues and our commitment to a positive change remain as strong as ever. We have all learned a great deal in the past months and expect to be judged by how we lead going forward on the issues of domestic violence and sexual assault."