John Lynch on Monday acknowledged the 49ers were surprised by the severity of the charges filed against Reuben Foster earlier this month but remain optimistic their star linebacker won't be convicted of them.
"We believe right now that it's wise to be patient and that all the information's not there yet," the 49ers general manager said. "So we sit back and wait for that to come, and at the given time when we think the next step is appropriate, then we'll make that decision."
If the allegations against Foster are true, Lynch said, the team's decision will be an easy one: "I do want to be very clear, abundantly clear, that if these charges are proven true, if Reuben did indeed hit this young lady, he won’t be part of our organization moving forward."
Lynch had his annual – and league mandated – pre-draft press conference in the team's draft room. The majority of the questions, however, were about his most controversial draft pick from last season, Foster, who is facing three felony charges relating to a February incident with his girlfriend in Los Gatos. Monday is the first time Lynch or anyone from the team spoke about and took questions regarding the recent allegations.
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Foster, 24, is charged with domestic violence, with forcefully attempting to prevent a victim from reporting a crime and possessing an assault weapon. According to local prosecutors, Foster's 28-year-old girlfriend flagged down a passing car after he threw her out of his house. She was taken to an area hospital with bruises and a ruptured eardrum.
A judge has ordered Foster to cease all contact with his girlfriend, who has hired her own attorney. Some legal experts think that move signals that she won't testify in the case or otherwise cooperate with the prosecution.
While the rest of his teammates have begun training at the team facility, the 49ers and Foster agreed that he should stay away. Lynch said that would be the case until either the case is resolved – which could take months – or there is a significant change in the matter.
Lynch said he and other team officials remain in contact with Foster and that the 49ers were working with the linebacker to create a structure outside the team facility. For example, Lynch said the team is finding somewhere Foster can work out and train.
Foster's teammates said they understood the team's actions.
"Our front office has done a really great job of communicating with us what's going on," tackle Joe Staley said. "He's not here right now and we're waiting for all the facts to be out there. But they've made it very clear: If he did what he's being accused of, he's not going to be here. So I think that's a message to everybody that you keep yourself out of trouble in the offseason."
Lynch was asked several times whether his experience with Foster last year – he failed a drug test and was kicked out of the scouting combine after an altercation with a hospital technician – has affected the team's evaluations on this year's draft hopefuls.
Lynch said character was a prime concern last year and noted the 49ers did a "thorough dive" on Foster, which included sending team officials like team chaplain Earl Smith and Keena Turner, a former linebacker who runs their player-engagement department, to visit with Foster for two days in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
"We felt given the information we had – we did a lot of work – it was something that we were comfortable with," he said. "We felt like while he was here, he was good, there was structure. … Unfortunately, some of the league's rules don't allow us to have our hands on these guys all the time."
Lynch was asked if taking Foster with the 31st overall pick was a mistake.
"That's yet to be determined," he said. "I'm certainly not comfortable with what's transpired in the short time he's been here. But I think being around this league, I've seen too many cases of guys who struggle early and then, fortunately, figure it out. Provided we have that opportunity, I would love nothing more than for that to be the case. But we'll see where that goes."