Ray McDonald can continue playing for the San Francisco 49ers without the burden of a domestic violence case that has followed him all season.
The Santa Clara County district attorney’s office announced Monday that it declined to file charges against the defensive lineman in an investigation stemming from his Aug. 31 arrest.
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Prosecutors said in a release that they had insufficient evidence to charge McDonald. They cited conflicting versions of what happened, a lack of verifiable eyewitnesses and a lack of cooperation by the alleged victim, McDonald’s fiancee.
"All domestic violence complaints deserve our concern, sensitivity and careful review," District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in the release. "After our thorough review of all the facts, we do not have evidence sufficient to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. McDonald committed a crime" against his fiancee.
McDonald has played all season despite outside pressure on the 49ers to bench him. He has 24 tackles, 15 of those solo, while starting all nine games for the 49ers (5-4).
"I appreciate the seriousness of the situation and I understand and respect that law enforcement had a job to do, which is why I cooperated fully with their investigation from beginning to end," McDonald said in a statement. "I am relieved that the DA’s office has rightfully decided not to file charges. I want to thank everyone who was supportive during this difficult time."
The arrest came only days after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced stiffer penalties for players accused of domestic violence, including a six-week suspension for a first offense and at least a year for a second. That move followed scrutiny over former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice’s two-game penalty stemming from his arrest on an assault charge in February.
"The issue of domestic violence is important to us, as it is throughout society," the 49ers said in a statement Monday. "We have taken this allegation seriously, just as we have taken the principles of due process seriously. We have said from the beginning that we will consider the information available, allow the facts to lead to our decisions and respect the judicial process. Based on the information available to us and the District Attorney’s decision not to file charges, there will be no change in Ray’s status with the team."
According to the DA’s office, the investigation determined that McDonald’s fiancee, who was identified only as "Jane Doe" in the statement, struck McDonald during an argument at his home during his 30th birthday party and he then tried to restrain her.
The two scuffled and McDonald forcibly attempted to remove her from the home, the statement said.
McDonald called a San Jose police officer, saying he needed to get "a female" out of his house, the statement said. The fiancee subsequently called 911 and that led to McDonald’s arrest.
According to a memo prosecutors sent to Rosen, both McDonald and his fiancee said she struck him first. The memo says her injuries were "consistent with restraint and an ensuing scuffle, not an attack."
The memo also notes a prior incident at the home on May 24, when McDonald called police to note his fiancee had a gun. He said then that she never pointed it at him or fired, but during the recent investigation said she did fire it into the ground as he drove away that day.
On his birthday, McDonald and his pregnant fiancee got into the fight after a woman attending the party told her some women were getting too friendly with McDonald. McDonald’s fiancee, who was sleeping upstairs, came down and confronted him, according to the prosecutors’ memo.
Following the arrest, 49ers CEO Jed York, general manager Trent Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh repeatedly said they have zero tolerance for domestic violence, but rather than bench McDonald they agreed to let "due process" play out before making a decision about his future with the team. Harbaugh said he wouldn’t allow any player found guilty of domestic violence to be on his team.
He also said at the time that public pressure wouldn’t affect how the 49ers handled McDonald’s situation. An eight-year NFL veteran, McDonald has been a key member of one of the NFL’s fiercest front seven units.
Harbaugh took his player at his word.
"As I’ve said from the very beginning, I was never there to stand up here and say what did or didn’t happen," Harbaugh said Monday. "The stance on domestic violence, that principle of being completely against it and also the principle for being for due process, and the respect of the judicial system, legal process, and that these are people’s lives, let the facts and the information lead to the decisions that we would make as an organization and that ultimately the authorities would make. They had a process, they had an investigative process that now seems to be concluded."