Former New England Patriots defensive coordinator and current Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia maintained his innocence and his new team said it supported him after a 1996 sexual assault allegation resurfaced Wednesday night.
The Detroit News reported that Patricia and a friend of his were indicted 22 years ago by a Texas grand jury, on one count each of aggravated sexual assault for an alleged incident involving a woman on South Padre Island. The accuser did not testify and the case was dismissed 10 months later.
"As someone who was falsely accused of this very serious charge over 22 years ago, and never given the opportunity to defend myself and clear my name, I find it incredibly unfair, disappointing, and frustrating that this story would resurface now with the only purpose being to damage my character and reputation," Patricia said in a statement issued by the Lions. "I firmly maintain my innocence, as I have always done."
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The Lions hired Patricia after last season to replace Jim Caldwell as coach. He had previously been an assistant with the New England Patriots.
The Lions said a "standard pre-employment background check" did not turn up the incident. But the team said it was standing by Patricia.
"We have spoken to Coach Patricia about this at length as well as the attorney who represented him at the time," the Lions said in a statement attributed to owner Martha Firestone Ford, general manager Bob Quinn and president Rod Wood. "Based upon everything we have learned, we believe and have accepted Coach Patricia's explanation and we will continue to support him."
An NFL spokesman says the league will review the matter with the team.
In a statement to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said the organization was not aware of the allegation.
"For 14 years in our organization, Matt conducted himself with great integrity and is known to be an outstanding coach, person and family man. We have always been confident in Matt's character and recommended him highly to become the head coach of the Detroit Lions," he reportedly said.