Domestic violence cases are among the most difficult to prosecute. Victims often recant their statements or become unwilling to testify against their abuser. Juries struggle to rationalize convicting a man when the woman he was charged with beating chooses to remain in the relationship. It is a tragic and complex problem that is getting much-needed attention in recent years. The challenge, though, extends beyond convicting the guilty. As we become more educated about the terrible domestic violence problem in our society, it becomes increasingly difficult to trust the legal outcome. In fact, most people assume that a man who is arrested, but not convicted, is likely guilty of the act. How we get to the truth and to just outcome in cases where the victims understandably do not stand up for themselves is maddeningly tedious and time consuming. While most people are rushing to take sides on the case of new Seahawks draft pick, Frank Clark, the truth appears to be far more complex than we may want to admit.
What we know
There have been so many different reports, that it can be dizzying. Not everyone has time to read a full police report and all the articles that have followed. Here is what I have found as non-disputed facts as a result of my research on the topic:
- Clark was charged with domestic violence
- The charge was made in guidance with an Ohio law that instructs the police to charge an offender if there are signs of physical violence even if the victim does not wish to pursue charges. The victim, Diamond Hurt, did not want pursue charges at any point.
- Clark eventually plead to a charge of persistent disorderly conduct, a fourth-degree misdemeanor in Ohio
- The 911 call was made by two witnesses, Lisa Babson and Kristie Cole, who were in the room next door to Clark and Hurt. In an article by The Seattle Times, Geoff Baker, the witnesses explained that they heard shouting and loud banging next door and they saw Hurt half-naked on the floor and barely moving when they came to see what was happening.
- There were two young witnesses in the room with Clark and Hurt. Both were relatives of Hurt. One was in the shower at the time the altercation happened. The younger of the two got the older brother out of the shower and told him Clark was hitting Hurt. The older brother said he came out of the shower and Clark was punching Hurt. The witness went on to tell police that his sister was being held against the wall and that his sister “tried to fight back and Frank grabbed her by the throat, picked her off the ground, and slammed her to the ground.”
- Hurt’s description of the event contradicts at least part of her brother’s account. She told police that Clark did not grab her by the throat. She reported he grabbed her by the shirt. The police officer pointed out her brother said Clark grabbed her by the throat, and Hurt again said he grabbed her by the shirt.
- There are pictures of Hurt with blood on her face. Hurt told police it was Clark’s blood, and wiped it away.
- Hurt had Clark’s blood on her face because she had bitten into his nose earlier in the altercation.
- Hurt said the fight started when she was “short-tempered and threw a TV remote” at Clark. Clark tried restraining her on the bed, and that is when she bit his nose. They got off the bed and Hurt reported that Clark then punched her in the face and she fell back breaking a lamp.
- Lynne Gast-King, the Ohio prosecutor who handled the domestic violence case against Clark told the Seattle Times that “The facts were not as they initially appeared,” in the police report. She went on to say that a conversation with Hurt’s mother was a factor in her decision to reduce charges. The details of that conversation were not shared, but Gast-King said the mother “had nothing bad to say about Clark.”
- On the Seahawks side of things, we know that General Manager John Schneider has stated publicly that the team believes Clark did not strike Hurt based on their investigations. We also know that they claim their information came, in part, from interviewing the counselors of both Clark and Hurt, and that Schneider claims that other teams and a central NFL investigation came to similar conclusions to that of the Seahawks front office.
What we don’t know
What actually happened in that room? The prevailing story is that it went as described in the police report. Yet, we have the prosecutor and the Seahawks front office saying otherwise. Hurt’s mother had nothing negative to say about a man accused of punching her daughter in the face. The reports of the brothers in the room were already at least partially contradicted by Hurt herself.
We also know that Hurt started the altercation by throwing a remote at Clark and then biting his nose when he restrained her. That would in no way condone punching her in the face. It does make one wonder if choking was confused with being grabbed by the shirt, could shoving someone in the face who just bit into your nose be confused with a punch? Probably not, but it is not hard to imagine a knee-jerk physical reaction when sometime bites your nose hard enough to cause blood smears on the biter’s cheek.
Unlike the Greg Hardy case, there was no money to offer Hurt for her silence and cooperation. Hardy’s victim failed to testify the second time against him, in part, because she was on a series of expensive trips
. The implication was that Hardy was paying her off.
Unlike the Jameis Winston rape case, there was not overwhelming pressure on the victim to recant her statement. Clark was immediately kicked off the University of Michigan team. If anything, there was an outpouring of support for her to pursue the charges. There was also no evidence of police or university misconduct or cover-up the way there was in the Winston case.
Patience and open minds needed
It is commendable to see so many people rushing to protect the rights of battered women. We have a long way to go in order to find the best way to address domestic violence. One important step is to take each case individually and not jump to conclusions. Insist on the truth, not on a quick response. It is okay to admit, “I don’t know,” because the fact is that none of us know for sure what goes on with other couples behind closed doors.
The overlapping accounts of the altercation between Clark and Hurt make this a particularly complicated situation to unravel. Knowing how often victims of domestic violence do not stand up for themselves makes us all want to rush to Hurt’s defense even if she is not asking for it. Often in those cases, however, the victim is the one who makes the initial call to police for help and initially presses charges before reconsidering later. None of that happened here. Is it possible that this was a dispute where both sides felt mutually responsible? Are two adults allowed to make that decision, or should society intervene no matter what?
The answers are nuanced. America does not generally have patience for shades of gray. Black or white rule the headlines and sound bites.
KING5 had a thought-provoking interview
with a domestic violence expert who reiterated how important it is to acknowledge that we “be very careful about because [we] don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors. We never know what’s going on behind closed doors.” Her quote was in reference to the Seahawks insistence about what they know, but it applies to all sides of this.
Schneider and the Seahawks would be wise to be as forth-coming as possible about what they actually do know and what other teams or the NFL knows. Clark would be wise to share more about what happened. If Hurt and her mother truly do not believe Clark is guilty, they would be generous to offer more public explanations of why.
If none of that happens, and more information comes to light in the opposite direction implicating Clark did punch Hurt, Seattle would need to seriously consider cutting their second round pick. If Schneider is found to have knowingly lied about what Clark did, it should be considered a fireable offense.
All possibilities are on the table. Grabbing a pitchfork to either attack or defend the Seahawks and Clark does nothing to move the conversation forward or make women safer. Hunker down and wait for the more complete story to emerge. Have an educated opinion instead of an impulsive one. That is how we move forward.