Ohio prosecutor elaborated on her investigation of Seahawks top draft pick Frank Clark, saying, “I don’t think he punched her.” Her conclusions contradicted what the victim and her brother told police.
A day earlier, she wouldn’t give details about what convinced her that Seahawks top draft pick Frank Clark didn’t beat up his girlfriend during an ugly incident at an Ohio hotel last fall.
But on Wednesday, the prosecutor who agreed last month to reduce Clark’s domestic-violence charges wanted to be clear: she believes Clark didn’t “punch or slap” his girlfriend, and says she didn’t brush aside witnesses.
“From what I gathered, I do not believe he punched her, slapped her, anything like that,” Lynne Gast-King, municipal prosecutor for the city of Sandusky, told The Seattle Times on Wednesday.
Gast-King spoke more pointedly than she did Tuesday, when she said she was convinced Clark “isn’t a batterer,” but declined to say exactly what Clark’s girlfriend, Diamond Hurt, told her about the incident. When pressed for an explanation Wednesday, the prosecutor agreed to elaborate on whether Clark struck Hurt.
“Was there physical things going on between them? Yeah, there was,” Gast-King said. “But I don’t think he punched her.”
That statement contradicted what Hurt and her younger brother told police Nov. 15, after officers were summoned to a disturbance at the Maui Sands, a Sandusky hotel and waterpark resort. And Gast-King’s conclusion surprised one Seattle domestic violence victims’ advocate trained to counsel DV perpetrators.
“I think it’s really surprising, even irresponsible, for a prosecutor to make a declaration like that — that we know he’s not a batterer or he didn’t abuse her,” said Peg Coleman, executive director of the Domestic Abuse Women’s Network, serving south King County.
“How do we know?” Coleman asked.
A Perkins Township police report on the incident said Hurt told police that Clark got violent after the couple argued and she threw a TV remote at him and bit his nose.
“She (said) Frank then punched her in the face and she fell back breaking the lamp,” the officer wrote.
The police report noted Hurt’s 15-year-old brother said he also “observed Frank punching Diamond.”
Hurt, who no longer is dating Clark, has not returned phone calls seeking comment about the incident.
The Seahawks’ selection last week of Clark, a 6-foot-2, 277-pound defensive end from Michigan, has drawn national scrutiny after earlier NFL domestic-violence cases, including the case that captured Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice on videotape punching his then-fiancee in an elevator.
Clark, 21, was arrested after the hotel-room incident that left Hurt bloodied and nearly unconscious on the floor, according to the police report and witness statements. Michigan kicked Clark off its football team two days after his arrest.
Initially charged with first-degree misdemeanor assault and domestic violence, Clark received a reduced conviction for “persistent disorderly conduct” after striking a plea deal with Gast-King.
As part of the agreement, Clark completed a 25-week domestic-violence-counseling course and paid $350 in fines and court costs.
Seahawks general manager John Schneider has said the NFL team investigated the incident thoroughly and wouldn’t have drafted Clark if they believed he had struck his girlfriend.
But before the 2012 NFL draft, Schneider said: “Suffice to say, we would never, ever take a player that struck a female or had a domestic dispute like that, or did anything like that.’’
On Friday, after Clark was taken with the team’s second-round pick (63rd overall), Schneider was asked whether a player “putting his hands on a woman” still was a deal-breaker for the organization.
“Yeah, it still is,’’ Schneider replied. “I can’t get into the specifics of Frank’s case, but that is still a deal-breaker for us and will continue to be as we move forward.’’
At a news conference in September, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said the Rice scandal would change the way the team evaluates players.
“It will never be the same,” Carroll said. “Unfortunately, I’ve got to admit, my awareness is different than it was, and I don’t think it’ll ever be the same as it was. I’m glad that I can say that now, because hopefully we can prevent or head off any kind of issue that could come up in the future. Unfortunately we had to see an incident that elevated our awareness to really get it to the right place. It’s unfortunate we have to learn the hard way sometimes.”
During a telephone interview Tuesday, Gast-King told The Times she agreed to the plea deal only after separately speaking with Clark, Hurt and Hurt’s mother. The prosecutor said she didn’t interview any of the other witnesses but considered written statements they gave to police.
Based primarily on her talk with Hurt, Gast-King said she came away convinced that Clark was involved in a “physical confrontation,” but it didn’t amount to domestic violence.
“As someone who watched the Ray Rice situation in horror, I don’t think this is what you’re going to see from Frank Clark,” Gast-King said. “ … I don’t think he’s a danger to this particular lady or to other women. And I hope I’m not wrong.”
But Gast-King repeatedly declined Tuesday to divulge what Hurt told her “in confidence” about the incident.
“I feel like this thing is taking on a life of its own,” Gast-King said Wednesday. “I don’t want to betray Diamond, but at the same time I want to respect her. I know people are calling her, and that’s not her. She doesn’t want the spotlight. She’s a private person.”
Gast-King reiterated that the police investigation and witness statements were thorough and credible. But they provided only part of the story, and Hurt filled in the gaps, she said.
“It’s not like (Hurt) recanted or anything, either,” Gast-King said. “She was very forthright about what happened. She relayed how things happened, and how out-of-control things got and how frightened everyone was, including her brothers. I mean, Mr. Clark is a big man. “
Gast-King noted none of the witnesses saw “the entire ordeal.”
“There were a lot of assumptions made based on a pretty nasty scene,” she said.
Gast-King said she can’t elaborate without betraying Hurt.
After reading a story in The Times on Wednesday that included information from a hotel clerk and two guests about what they saw, Gast-King also said she wanted witnesses to know she didn’t “just brush them aside.”
“Part of why Mr. Clark had to get such extensive treatment was because of their statements, which demonstrated to me that, yeah, this was a big deal and things got way out of control,” she said.
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“As a prosecutor, I want to be perceptive to the fact that domestic violence is a very serious issue that needs to be dealt with,” Gast-King added Wednesday. “But I also am perceptive to the fact that two people can have an altercation that is not domestic violence. Every case you have to look at the whole case.”
Coleman, the domestic violence victims’ advocate, said people should be suspicious of Clark but added that he also should be given a chance at redemption.
“He has a right to earn a living, and he’s going to be under a microscope now,” Coleman said. “I think that can be a good thing in the long run.”