The Carolina Panthers today deactivated defensive end Greg Hardy, who is the subject of a domestic violence case, despite saying all week that they believe in due process and that Hardy would play in today’s game. The 49ers, meanwhile, have been resolute in saying that their own defensive end, Ray McDonald, would continue to be in good standing despite a domestic violence case that revolves around him and his fiancee.
A key difference: Hardy's case is much farther along than McDonald's.
In July Hardy was convicted by a judge of assaulting a woman and communicating threats. He is appealing the verdict and a jury trial has been set for November. The NFL – and until today, the Panthers – have said it would not consider punishment until that court case has wrapped up.
McDonald, meanwhile, was arrested on suspicion of felony domestic abuse but has not yet been charged. Monday’s initial court hearing for McDonald was delayed two weeks. Investigators both with the San Jose Police and the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office currently are interviewing witnesses and gathering information. After that is complete, the assistant district attorney in charge of domestic abuse will review the file and decide whether to press charges.
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The incident in question occurred on Aug. 31 at a birthday party for McDonald at his home in San Jose. Perhaps half the 49ers attended, which gives an idea of how many people must be interviewed. The district attorney's office said last week that the timing – it could be weeks before a decision is made on charges – is typical of a case involving this many witnesses.
The 49ers also have been preaching due process in this case, but they are privately saying they believe McDonald is innocent of felony domestic abuse. Given the current climate in the NFL regarding domestic abuse and the hue and cry for stiffer punishment, even the whiff of guilt would prompt a team to suspend a player. McDonald has attended every practice since the incident, and he played more snaps last week than any 49ers defensive lineman.
The NFL Network, which is owned by the 49ers and the 31 other teams, reported Sunday that the 49ers believe McDonald’s version of events. McDonald is expected to start at left defensive end again today.
“I would rather have someone criticize me for doing that than punishing someone who is innocent,” de facto team owner Jed York said on KNBR radio last week.
The 49ers and their sizable security force obviously have interviewed McDonald and the players who were on hand. A law enforcement source has told The Bee that some of those players were vociferously protesting McDonald's arrest as he was being taken away early on the morning of Aug. 31. The police arrested McDonald after seeing “visible injuries” on his fiancee, who was 10 weeks pregnant at the time.
In addition, the 49ers believe there is exculpatory evidence in a May 25 incident in which police were called to McDonald's home. San Jose police have offered no details of that incident, only that the dispatch call described it as a “disturbance,” which is a catch-all description for an array of possible issues.
The risk the 49ers are taking, of course, is that they have some of the information but not all of the information. And that's one of the lessons of the Ray Rice fiasco. At best, the NFL initially suspended Rice for two games without knowing exactly what happened in the case. (At worst, they had all of the information and still suspended him for two games). When all of the information finally was revealed, it was a disaster for all parties involved.