Local prosecutors on Thursday charged 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster with felony domestic violence in connection with a February incident they say left his longtime girlfriend bruised and with a ruptured eardrum.
According to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office, Foster's 28-year-old girlfriend flagged down a passing car in Los Gatos after she had been dragged by her hair by Foster, punched in the head eight to 10 times by him and was physically thrown from the house.
Foster, 24, faces charges of domestic violence with an allegation that he inflicted great bodily injury, forcefully attempted to prevent a victim from reporting a crime and possessed an assault weapon – all felonies. The charge of preventing a victim from reporting a crime often is applied when someone removes or damages someone else's cell phone to prevent them from calling police.
Foster remains free on $75,000 bond, but a judge on Thursday ordered that he have no contact with his girlfriend while the case is being considered.
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Despite the graphic allegations, the 49ers do not seem poised to cut Foster as they did with cornerback Tramaine Brock, who was accused of domestic violence a year ago, and will wait until the case moves through the courts.
“The 49ers organization is aware of today’s disturbing charges regarding Reuben Foster," the team said in a statement. "We will continue to follow this serious matter. Reuben is aware that his place in our organization is under great scrutiny and will depend on what is learned through the legal process.”
Foster appeared in court in San Jose dressed in a dark suit and accompanied by new teammate Richard Sherman. The veteran cornerback noted that Foster, a first-round draft pick a year ago, has no family in the area and that he was on hand for support. Another defensive teammate, Jaquiski Tartt, also made an appearance at the courthouse.
"Just as a teammate, you want to be there for support," Sherman said. "We don't know what happened. I'm not judging the circumstances. I'm just trying to support him."
Foster and his attorney, Josh Bentley, left the courthouse without speaking to reporters. The only words Foster spoke were, "Yes, your honor," when asked by Judge Nona Klippen if he understood the instructions of the no-contact order she gave him. Foster did not enter a plea; a hearing for that has been set for April 30.
Prosecutor Kevin Smith said Foster faces a maximum of 10 years and eight months in state prison if convicted.
“Our focus is on holding accountable those who hurt their intimate partners,” Smith said. “Our office handles between 4,000 and 5,000 domestic violence cases each year. We only hope that this case illuminates the tragic regularity of the rest.”
According to the district attorney's office, Foster's girlfriend was taken to a hospital following the incident. Foster's home was searched and officers found a Sig Sauer 516 rifle along with a large-capacity magazine, both of which are illegal to possess in California.
The NFL said it continues to review the matter as part of its personal conduct policy.
Foster, who also was arrested for marijuana possession in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in January, has been working out regularly at the team's facility in Santa Clara following the incidents. His next hearing in Alabama is scheduled for May 2.
Last year, the 49ers released Brock one day after he was arrested for domestic violence in Santa Clara. They did not follow the same path with Foster, a first-round pick in 2017, because, according to general manager John Lynch, "each situation is different, and we'll leave it at that."
The implication was that they didn't feel as if Foster's actions were as serious as Brock's. The case against Brock later was dismissed when the alleged victim in the incident became uncooperative with local prosecutors. The NFL declined to take any action against him as well.
As far as Foster's case, Smith said the district attorney's office would move forward even if the alleged victim declines to testify. "We're comfortable with the evidence we have," he said.
Before Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan arrived in 2017, the 49ers also cut Aldon Smith, Ray McDonald and Bruce Miller after each of them had more than one arrest.
At the scouting combine last month, Lynch and Shanahan made it clear that Foster can't afford any more missteps.
“We have talked with Reuben, and the context in a broad sense of what we discussed with Reuben is just our expectations for him and our expectations for all our players,” Lynch said. “We have a high standard. We made that very clear with him.”
Said Shanahan: "I want to help Reuben out, just like I want to help any of our players out. But it’s a two-way street. They’ve got to help us out, and there comes a lot of responsibility with that.”
In addition to his marijuana-related arrest, Foster failed a drug test at last year’s scouting combine due to a diluted sample. He also was sent home early from the combine after an altercation with a hospital worker.
The 49ers' offseason program, the de facto start of their 2018 season, begins Monday. There is no word on whether Foster will take part.