The prosecutor reduced charges in the Ohio hotel-room confrontation involving Seahawks draft pick Frank Clark, but she won’t say whether Clark punched girlfriend Diamond Hurt.
The Ohio prosecutor who handled the domestic-violence case against Seahawks top draft pick Frank Clark said Tuesday she is convinced he isn’t a “batterer” likely to repeat his offense.
But Lynne Gast-King, municipal prosecutor for the city of Sandusky, Ohio, declined to say whether or not Clark struck his then-girlfriend, Diamond Hurt, in a Nov. 15 hotel-room confrontation. Gast-King said she believes there was a “physical confrontation” between the pair inside the room, adding that a police report in which Hurt and two of her brothers claimed Clark had punched her was thoroughly detailed.
“When I first read that report, I was like ‘Holy you know what … this is bad, this is really bad,’ ’’ she said.
The Seahawks’ selection on Friday of Clark, a former standout defensive end for Michigan, has drawn national scrutiny in the wake of earlier NFL domestic-abuse cases including last year’s case involving Baltimore Raven Ray Rice.
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Gast-King said that after her initial reaction to the police report, during pretrial work on the case, Clark’s attorney asked her to meet with the former player. She said it was something that rarely happens with defendants.
“He made a very good impression, of course,’’ Gast-King said of Clark. “He was very articulate, very polite, very humble. Actually, he was quite charming. I always take that with a grain of salt because batterers can be quite charming. I’m very careful about that, and I think I’m pretty good about reading whether it’s forced or faked.’’
Gast-King also spoke with Hurt, who was 20 at the time of the incident, and her mother. But the prosecutor declined to disclose details of their conversation, saying it was confidential. “The facts were not as they initially appeared,” she said.
That conclusion, along with Clark’s agreement to receive counseling, prompted Gast-King to reduce Clark’s charges from domestic violence and assault to fourth-degree “persistent disorderly conduct.”
Gast-King said the Seahawks never contacted her before they made Clark their second-round pick last week. The team has said it conducted a thorough investigation and is convinced that Clark did not strike Hurt, despite her statement to police that night that he had “punched her in the face.’’
Police photographs taken at the scene show red marks on Hurt’s face and neck and what the report calls an apparent rug burn on her right hip. Two women who had been staying in the room next door told The Seattle Times on Monday that they saw Hurt lying half-naked and motionless on the floor through her open room door.
They also said small children ran out of the room yelling that Clark had “killed” their sister.
On Tuesday, hotel night manager Stephanie Burkhart told The Times she entered the room moments after the altercation that night and also saw Hurt on the floor and barely moving, as if “she’d had the wind knocked out of her.’’
The Seahawks on Tuesday reiterated their statement that they had conducted an extensive independent investigation that included “confidential interviews with people directly involved with the case.’’ They added that Clark would not have been on their draft board had they believed he struck his girlfriend.
The team’s investigation did not include interviews with any witnesses from that night, other than Clark himself. A call to Seahawks owner Paul Allen through his spokesman on Tuesday was not returned.
None of the three women interviewed by The Times was contacted by the Seahawks.
The women spoke with police the night of the incident but were not contacted further once Clark was arraigned two days later on first-degree misdemeanor charges of domestic violence and assault.
Perkins Township Police Chief Kenneth Klamar said Tuesday his department would have had to be asked by Gast-King to investigate further. Klamar said no one from the prosecutor’s office had contacted or consulted with arresting officer Martin Curran prior to a plea deal, reached April 10, that reduced Clark’s charges to fourth-degree persistent disorderly conduct.
Clark paid a $250 fine and $100 in court costs and will not have any domestic-violence charge on his record.
“I can’t give you anything to tell you what went on between the attorney and the prosecutor,’’ Klamar said, adding that there’s nothing unusual about not consulting with the police before such plea deals.
Klamar praised Curran’s police work and arrest report. He said a breath test for alcohol was administered to Hurt at the scene to make sure her statement wasn’t made in an intoxicated state.
“We want to make sure that she’s sober,” he said. “That she won’t be able to recant in a day and say, ‘Well, I was drunk when I told the officer what happened.’ ’’
Hurt blew 0.000 percent on the test.
Police did not conduct a sobriety test on Clark, though the report noted he smelled of alcohol, admitted to drinking and had been said by one of Hurt’s brothers to have consumed “a fifth of Hennessey” that night. Klamar said police already believed they had enough for the domestic-violence charge based on interviews and other evidence at the scene.
Klamar said Curran did not know Clark was a football player and that the case was handled as any domestic disturbance would be.
Hotel night manager Burkhart said that when she found Hurt, the woman was so incoherent that Burkhart initially thought she might have been drinking. Then Burkhart saw “a huge welt” on Hurt’s face and immediately feared for Hurt’s safety.
Clark was still in the room, so Burkhart told him to stay in one corner while she stood by Hurt, who by then had “slowly crawled her way” up onto the bed. While they waited for a male security employee and police to arrive, Burkhart said, Clark bolted past her — shouldering her out of the way — and headed down to the parking lot.
Burkhart expressed surprise that the Seahawks never contacted her during their investigation. If they had, she said, she knows exactly what she’d have told them: “That he beat her up.”
The police report indicates Hurt said she threw a TV remote and an alarm clock at Clark and then bit his nose after he’d restrained her on a bed. One of Hurt’s younger brothers told police he saw Clark punch Hurt in the face, while another said he’d picked her up by the throat and thrown her into a lamp.
Gast-King said “Perkins police did a wonderful job” with their interviews, photos and report. But after interviewing Clark and Hurt later on, she decided: “The police did everything exactly right, but I’m trying to be delicate because I don’t want to involve Diamond (Hurt) too much in this. Let’s just say she can take care of herself.’’
She added: “Diamond has indicated to me what happened in that room. We’ve talked quite a bit about it and there are answers that I’m satisfied are true answers — not just something made up to get him off the hook.’’
But Gast-King would not say directly whether Hurt’s statement that Clark punched her was accurate.
She said she did not interview the two women from the room next door — Lisa Babson, 44, and Kristie Colie, 43 — but opted to rely on their statements to police.
“I think the facts that the witnesses reported are accurate,’’ Gast-King said. “They saw and heard what they saw and heard. There was definitely an altercation. But where the facts went from there, it was a situation that seemed to spiral out of control very quickly, and not just on Mr. Clark’s part. There was some personal things going on between the two of them.’’
Gast-King said she understands Clark and Hurt have since broken up but remain friendly. The couple met about four years earlier attending high school in Cleveland.
One factor she considered, Gast-King said, was that Hurt’s mother “had nothing bad to say” about Clark. She’d sought to interview Hurt’s then-15-year-old brother, who told police he saw Clark punch his sister that night, but says he never got back to her.
After Clark completed a 25-week “Healthy Relationship and Prevention of Domestic Abuse” program at the Ann Arbor Community Center, Gast-King agreed to reduce his charges. The program involved weekly meetings and check-ins with counselors three times per week.
She said it’s a typical deal for first-time offenders.
“This was not a sweep-it-under-the-rug type of thing,’’ she said. “I treated Mr. Clark the way I would anyone in that situation. This is how our court operates. We’re trying to strike the right balance.’’