Photo by Elizabeth Lavin.

Sports

On the Zeke Elliott Suspension: Even a Liar Can Be Beaten and Choked

It's time to listen — really listen — to Tiffany Thompson's account.

Tiffany Thompson put herself out there. In a pink bra, black pencil skirt, and black pumps, her hair pulled back in a tight bun, a black choker tied around her neck, she stands in front of a wrought-iron fence on a sidewalk at night. Presumably it is in front of the Short North Carriage House, a vacation rental that Ezekiel Elliott’s father had rented for his 21st birthday in Columbus, Ohio’s equivalent of Uptown. She stands, expressionless, for a series of police photographs of her bruises — on her arms and wrists. There are several shots of her hands, but those don’t appear to be injured in the photos. In the police report there is a diagram, essentially a pencil drawing of a female figure where injuries can be marked. Ten areas are circled and marked with a “V” for “Visible Bruise, Mark or Injury,” from her neck to her knees.

Like everyone else, I had been reading snippets about the allegations of domestic violence against the Dallas Cowboys’ star running back in news reports over the past year. Then I called a friend in Columbus on Monday and found out, to my shock, that the entire police report — including the photos of the alleged victim in her bra, her home address, her cell phone number, her employer, and pretty much every other personal identifier other than her social security number — was posted online under the direction of the Columbus City Attorney, Richard C. Pfeiffer Jr., on September 6 of last year.

I have spent the last two days doing a deep dive into the 77 pages of the police report, recorded witness interviews, and police photos. And the most surprising thing to me about all of it is that, to my knowledge, no one in the press has provided a full accounting of the allegations. They have generally been referred to as just that — “the allegations” — in a vague way that has made it pretty clear that they had little validity, until the NFL issued Elliott a 6-game suspension on Friday. And now the discussion has become all about Thompson, the vindictive ex-girlfriend who has been out to get the star player ever since he got drafted, made millions, and broke up with her.

Yes, there’s a lot of contradictory information, both in the police file and in recent leaked information from the NFL’s 160-page report. Yes, it looks like Thompson lied about what happened the night of her 911 call. Yes, it looks like she threatened to blackmail Elliott with a sex tape. Yes, it looks like she makes very poor choices and suffers from extreme jealousies and likes to send a lot of threatening late-night texts to an ex-boyfriend she can’t quite quit. Yes, there probably was a fair amount of alcohol involved. But none of that means Elliott didn’t choke her, repeatedly, to the point she couldn’t breathe.

So here it is. Not a snippet, but the full account from Thompson’s recorded interview and written statements to police. These are the allegations.

To my knowledge, no one in the press has provided a full accounting of the allegations.

Thompson says she and Elliott had been dating for about a year and that the couple lived together in an apartment for three months, from November 2015 to January 2016, when Thompson moved back home to her parents’ house and Elliott left for Miami for training before the draft. A month or two later, Thompson moved into an apartment in Dublin, a suburb of Columbus. Thompson says that Elliott paid the rent for her apartment, as well as her car payments. “He pays everything,” she wrote in her statement.

Thompson says that several times during the previous year Elliott had lost control, pushing her into a wall and hitting the side of her jaw, leaving her face swollen and bruised. She filed a police report in Miami in February 2016 alleging abuse.

She says the latest incident started in Columbus on Saturday, July 16, 2016. Elliott was flying back from Dallas to celebrate his 21st birthday (on July 22), and he asked Thompson to pick him up at the airport. Thompson says everything was fine when she picked Elliott up. She took him back to his apartment on Canvasback Lane, where they hung out before going out in the evening.

Thompson says that around 3 a.m., back at the apartment, Elliott started receiving multiple phone calls. When she confronted him about why a girl was “blowing up” his phone in the middle of the night, Elliott said, “Don’t worry about my phone. Worry about yourself.” She says he started cursing at her and called her a “bitch” before getting out of bed, walking around to her side, grabbing her, and throwing her against the bedroom door. She says he then placed his right hand around her neck and started choking her for 20 to 30 seconds. When he let go of her neck, she says, he clenched his fist to hit her and she put up her right forearm to cover her face. She says she had a bruise on her arm from where he made contact, as well as a bruise on her neck where he choked her.

Later, when she was crying, Elliott asked her if she was OK. Thompson says he then said he was sorry and that he didn’t mean to put his hands on her, and he started talking to her normally, as if nothing had happened. At that point, Thompson tried to get her belongings and leave, but Elliott told her he didn’t want her to go anywhere and to lie down in bed with him. Thompson says she was afraid he would punch her again, so she lay back down, and they fell asleep.

When they both woke up, around 3 or 4 p.m., after sleeping in on Sunday, July 17, Thompson says everything was “perfectly fine.” They went about their day, but Elliott still wouldn’t let Thompson leave. She says she asked multiple times, but he wouldn’t let her take any of her belongings.

On Sunday night, Thompson says, Elliott had plans to go to a bar with his friends and she had plans with her friends. She says Elliott left first, so he left his house keys with her. She ended up staying out later than he did, so it appears that when he returned to the apartment, he was locked out. Thompson says Elliott started calling and texting her repeatedly, and threatened to smash her car window and headlights and key her car if she didn’t return to unlock the apartment. She says when she returned, he snatched his keys from her and took his right hand and twisted her left arm, resulting in a bruise. Elliott’s best friend from childhood, Alvarez Jackson, was there, and Thompson says that he told Elliott to let her go, which he did. But Thompson and Elliott continued to argue in front of Jackson about a two-week period when they had broken up and Thompson started “talking to” another guy. She says that during that time, Elliott repeatedly texted her, “I can’t lose you. I love you.” She eventually started dating him again. Jackson says he never witnessed any abuse.

She says he then placed his right hand around her neck and started choking her for 20 to 30 seconds.

After the fight, Thompson says, Elliott planned to leave the apartment, and he called a friend to pick him up. But when no one answered, he stayed. Thompson says she was still afraid, but she went back to bed and fell asleep, and then Elliott came and lay down with her.

On Monday, July 18, it was quiet for most of the day. Elliott went out at some point and Thompson says she stayed in the apartment with Jackson. But by Monday night, Thompson and Elliott started having the same argument in the bedroom about alleged infidelities. Thompson says that Elliott told her, “You’re in my house. You’re my puppy dog.” When she tried to leave, Elliott told her, “No, sit the fuck down.” Then he grabbed her by the arms and threw her onto the bed, saying, “Don’t move. You need to listen to me.” He took her phone and car keys, and when she tried to get up, Elliott pointed his finger “aggressively” in her face, poking into the skin of her cheek as she looked away. He kept smacking her face as she tried to look away, and when she again tried to get up, he told her, “No, we’re spending the whole day together. You have no choice but to.”

Thompson says the fight continued into Tuesday. During the day, she says, Elliott cried and said, “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what’s gotten into me. All I want to do is lay here with you.” He told her that his behavior “was just tough love” because “I love you too much.” They didn’t go out that night.

Elliott’s father, Stacy Elliott, says in an affidavit that he rented the Short North Carriage House, a vacation rental on W. 3rd Avenue, for Elliott’s 21st birthday party. On Wednesday, July 20, Thompson says, Elliott told her to go by her apartment to get clothes to go out with him that evening. He then gave her the address of the Carriage House, and she met him there. They went out for dinner at Genji Japanese Steakhouse, and to the Fourth Street Bar and Grill afterward. Thompson says everything was fine until they get back to the Carriage House, at which point she brought up “stuff that’s happened,” meaning Elliott cheating with multiple girls, and Elliott “lost it.”

Thompson was sitting on the bed when, she says, Elliott picked her up by her armpits and threw her against the wall, then carried her into the hallway and threw her against a storage closet door. She fell and hit her head. She tried to get back up, but Elliott came and dragged her back into the bedroom, saying, “Don’t play with me.” When she again tried to get up to leave, Elliott asked, “Where’s your phone at? I’ll call Johnny for you.” Johnny is the guy Thompson was seeing after she broke up with Elliott. Elliott called Johnny — he had his number, too — but Johnny didn’t answer.

Thompson walked to the laundry room, which was connected to the master bedroom. She says she saw him walking toward her, and as she turned around, he grabbed her neck, throwing her onto the floor. He got on top of her and started shaking her until she was gasping for breath, about 40 to 50 seconds. Then he picked her up by her neck and dragged her across the floor onto the bed, leaving bruises on her arms and wrists, rug burns on her right knee, and bite marks on her right shoulder. According to Thompson, Elliott said, “I’m not dealing with your dumb ass anymore. Try to leave and see what happens.”

Thompson says she lay down on the bed. “I was so scared to get out of bed and leave while he was sleeping,” she says. Instead, she stayed awake and lay there.

On Thursday, July 21, Thompson says, Elliott woke up and said, “What is wrong with me?” He and Thompson later left separately. They texted each other Thursday night. Thompson says she told Elliott, “I can’t take this anymore, and I need to get the police involved.” There’s a text that appears to be from Thompson that says, “Police are involved. I have to go to the station tomorrow for them to take pictures of me. Congrats bro.” Elliott appears to respond, “Why are u not out celebrating my bday with me. U said u wanted to spend this day with me but all u tryin to do is ruin it. U don’t love me.” Thompson replies, “You downtown? Lol.”

Photo by Elizabeth Lavin

Thompson says Elliott texted her that he was scared for them to be together because he didn’t want to put his hands on her anymore. There’s no text to that effect in the public record. Thompson says Elliot kept calling her and FaceTiming her, telling her she could get the police involved if she wanted but he was going to win. She says he told her she was lying and no one was ever going to believe her. She says he told her, “You’re just like every other girl.” Thompson says she told Elliott to cancel the lease for the apartment in Dublin; she no longer wanted to have any communication with him.

This is where the recorded intake interview ends and the police report starts.

According to an affidavit from a friend, Ayrin Mason, Thompson and Mason went to the Social Room, a club that Elliott’s father had reserved for the birthday festivities, around 11:45 on Thursday night. In her recorded interview, Mason makes it sound like the two started to party with Elliott’s group, and then he told them to leave and they moved across the room. Eventually they left when the club closed, after 2 a.m., and Mason says Thompson got into a face-slapping and hair-pulling fight with another woman outside the club. Mason broke up the fight quickly, which is confirmed in affidavits by Special Duty Officers who were working the club. No mention is made of injuries.

Mason says that Thompson told her there was an after-party at the Carriage House, and the two drove there separately. This is where Thompson’s account and those of a half dozen other witnesses, most of whom are friends with Elliott, diverge. Thompson says that when she pulled up at the Carriage House, where she had been staying with Elliott since Wednesday, he yanked her right arm and dragged her out of her car. She says he cursed at her and called her a bitch. Thompson called 911 around 2:40 a.m. on what was now Elliott’s birthday, Friday, July 22.

Witnesses later tell police that when Thompson pulled up at the Carriage House, she saw Elliott in a convertible driven by another woman, Taylor Sandbothe, and that Thompson approached Taylor and started yelling at her. Written accounts submitted to the police department later that day say Elliott and Sandbothe then walked into the Carriage House. Elliott’s written account says, and a few of the witness statements confirm, that as he walked inside Thompson screamed, “I am going to ruin your career, you have messed w/ the wrong person.”

In the same statement, Elliott also says that earlier that night Thompson had called him 40 times, and that “Tiffany Thompson and I are just friends. NEVER dated. She never lived w/ me. we had a sexual relationship that’s all.”

That last part contradicts an undated text message, presumably to Thompson, which reads: “U are my gf. I’m just reluctant to say it. Like I treat u like my gf. I want u to be. But I don’t act that way. It sucks. I can’t have u and be who i am.”

One could say that if Elliott is lying about his boyfriend status, that he’s lying about everything. That’s clearly not true. What people are saying is that since Thompson clearly lied about what happened in the street outside the Carriage House, and has sent numerous threatening texts to Elliott and others alleging that she was going to blackmail him and destroy his career, she is therefore lying about the domestic violence. After reviewing the full police report, I no longer think that’s true.

It is part of human nature to want to believe that we can recognize monsters, and therefore protect ourselves. That is much of the reason for victim blaming. If, as women, we truly believe that we can prevent rape by dressing modestly and not consuming alcohol and not going into “bad” neighborhoods, it makes us feel safer. It is a whole lot scarier to realize that none of that matters.

Because monsters don’t always look like we think they do, and victims don’t either. I learned that early on as a family law attorney, representing domestic violence victims in a rural Ohio county. I learned that the most polite, deferential men, who shook my hand and looked me right in the eye and gave me a wide, welcoming smile, were often the most violent. And that the women, who didn’t always tell me the whole truth and sometimes drank too much and maybe worked as strippers, were often the most abused.

When I met Elliott to interview him for our August issue of last year, I was entirely charmed. He walked straight up to me and gave me a huge bear hug, smelling freshly showered and still damp. I brought him Buckeyes, a small tribute to our shared alma mater. I wrote glowingly about the Missouri kid who loved math and his mom.

But after reviewing the police report of what happened in July 2016, I want to take that hug back. I will not wear an Elliott jersey. Because although Thompson may be an entirely unlikable and duplicitous human being, I believe her. Her recorded intake statement and her written statement are consistent. The pattern of the abuse described, as incredible as it may seem, fits the classic dance of domestic violence. That’s what makes it so frightening. And that is all that matters.

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