Vikings

The Legal Fallout of Jeff Gladney's Arrest

Photo Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski (USA TODAY Sports)

As initially reported by CBS 11 News in Dallas, Jeff Gladney was arrested earlier this week after being charged with third-degree felony family violence assault. The details of the alleged assault per CBS 11 News are graphic and disturbing:

Sources told CBS 11 News that Gladney became upset over the woman’s text messages and demanded to see her phone. At one point, sources said the accuser threw her phone out of the window on Elam Road but that Gladney stopped to get it. An arrest affidavit claimed he tried “… shoving [her] face toward her phone to try to use the phone’s Face ID to unlock,” and later “… pulling [her] by her hair trying to hold her still in order to get the Face ID to work.” The accuser then said Gladney began to strike her “… with closed fists causing pain in the side of her ribs, in the stomach and the back, and hitting her open hand across the head.” Then she told detectives the two returned to an apartment complex in Dallas, where she said Gladney “… began strangling [her] by the neck, which impeded her breathing for approximately five seconds,” and later “… grabbed [her] by her hair while the vehicle was still moving and dragged [her] across the ground.” The woman said she was able to break free and get into a vehicle with unknown passengers. Detectives documented bruising on her head, ears and torso. She also reported she had scratches on her face and neck and abrasions on her knees.

Family and domestic violence is all-too-common in the United States, affecting an estimated ten million people every year. As many as one-in-four women and one-in-nine men are victims of domestic violence.

So this is bigger than football: The interests of abusers facing justice and their victims finding help are far more important than any football game.

But the question of what’s next for Gladney still remains: Is this the end of his time with the Vikings? Perhaps even the end of his entire football career? Will he face jail time for what he may have done?


The Legal Consequences

Gladney was arrested and charged with third-degree felony family violence. The relevant language from the Texas Penal Code is copied below:

Sec. 22.01. ASSAULT.

(a) A person commits an offense if the person (1) intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes bodily injury to another …

(b) An offense under Subsection (a)(1) is a Class A misdemeanor, except that the offense is a felony of the third degree if the offense is committed against: … (2) a person whose relationship to or association with the defendant is described by Section 71.0021(b), 71.003, or 71.005, Family Code, if: …(B) the offense is committed by intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly impeding the normal breathing or circulation of the blood of the person by applying pressure to the person’s throat or neck or by blocking the person’s nose or mouth;

Sections 71.0021(b), 71.003, and 71.005 of the Texas Family Code encompass family members, dating relationships, and persons living together in the same household.

So two key things elevate Gladney’s assault charge from a Class A misdemeanor to a third-degree felony: First, it was done to someone he was dating — and therefore much more vulnerable to abuse due to the power dynamics and potential consequences from trying to escape the relationship. Second, Gladney allegedly strangled the victim, impeding her breathing for around five seconds. Those two details escalate Gladney’s potential criminal punishment if convicted from just a fine of up to $4,000 and no more than a year in jail — and possibly zero jail time — to a minimum of two years and a maximum of 10 years in jail, plus a fine of up to $10,000.

But that doesn’t mean Gladney will serve multiple years in jail. The vast majority of criminal cases in the U.S. never reach trial: roughly 95% instead are resolved via plea bargains — essentially a settlement whereby the defendant pleads guilty or nolo contendere (no contest) up front (saving the criminal justice system time, effort, and resources) in exchange for a more lenient punishment. In Gladney’s case, for example, he might plead no contest to the lesser simple assault charge and pay a $4,000 fine in exchange for the prosecution dropping the third-degree felony charge (and with it, the threat of extended jail time).

And furthermore, many criminal charges wind up being dropped by the prosecutor before ever reaching the plea bargaining process — particularly if the prosecutor thinks the prospects of proving the charges beyond a reasonable doubt may not be worth the time and resources. That can be particularly true for domestic assault cases, where victims are often unwilling to testify and can retract or modify their initial statements, and where the he-said-she-said nature of many cases can make it tough to clear the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt burden of proof. The visible, documented injuries here will help the prosecutor’s case, and since the dispute originated over the contents of a cell phone, those contents may be valuable evidence. And the prosecutor may be motivated by the desire to make an example of a high-profile athlete.

So where does that leave Gladney? While admittedly I am an attorney, I am not a criminal attorney, much less one admitted to practice in Texas, so my guess is no better than yours. Gladney presumably has the money to afford the kind of legal representation that will not make things easy for the prosecutor, and from the initial reports, it may be difficult to prove the choking element of the felony charge without further reports or corroborating evidence. My layman’s guess is that if the charges are not dropped, Gladney may end up pleading no contest to a lesser charge and avoiding jail time. But without any information beyond the initial report, that is just a shot in the dark.


The Football Consequences

But even if the charges were dropped or Gladney were let off with only a fine, he would still be far from off the hook. The NFL has already stated they are investigating the matter under the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy, and the Vikings’ statement released shortly after the arrest was announced does not sound like they are in a very clement mood.

Under the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy, a player may be subject to discipline, including fines and suspensions, even if their conduct does not result in a criminal conviction. The NFL undertakes its own investigation independent of law enforcement and may place the player on the Commissioner Exempt List if the player is charged with a violent crime (as Gladney has been). A player on the Commissioner Exempt List may not practice or attend games but may be present for team meetings, workouts, and other permitted non-football activities. Depending on the results of the NFL’s investigation, the league may either return a player to duty or continue to place the player on the Commissioner Exempt List (as was the case with Adrian Peterson in 2014).

Of particular relevance to Gladney’s case, the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy provides a mandatory minimum suspension for domestic violence offenses:

With regard to violations of the Personal Conduct Policy that involve: (i) criminal assault or battery (felony); (ii) domestic violence, dating violence, child abuse, and other forms of family violence; or (iii) sexual assault involving physical force or committed against someone incapable of giving consent, a first offense will subject the offender to a baseline suspension without pay of six games, with consideration given to any aggravating or mitigating factors. The presence of possible aggravating factors may warrant a longer suspension. Possible aggravating factors include, but are not limited to, a prior violation of the Personal Conduct Policy, similar misconduct before joining the NFL, violence involving a weapon, choking, repeated striking, or when an act is committed against a particularly vulnerable person, such as a child, a pregnant woman, or an elderly person, or where the act is committed in the presence of a child. A second offense will result in permanent banishment from the NFL.

So even if Gladney escapes criminal prosecution in Texas, he is likely facing at least a minimum six-game suspension for what the NFL may likely find to be a dating violence violation of their Personal Conduct Policy.

And on top of all that, Gladney faces additional repercussions from his own employer. The Vikings may have no desire to continue to employ him after his arrest, and that may be particularly true given that NFL teams can often void guarantees in a player’s deal for personal conduct violations. As former NFL agent Joel Corry has written before, “It is standard for NFL contracts to contain language voiding salary guarantees for a laundry list of reasons,” including for a suspension stemming from a violation of the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy. Assuming the Vikings’ contracts have that same boilerplate language, they could likely cut Gladney with no dead cap penalties beyond his rookie-deal signing bonus prorations.

So if the Vikings wanted to cut bait, could they cut Gladney so early into his rookie contract? Without the voided guarantees, they would incur a nearly $6 million dead cap hit by cutting him now. But if Gladney’s guarantees were voided, the Vikings could clear his $1.1 million salary off the 2021 books, while incurring an additional $2.8M of dead cap space from his future signing bonus prorations. That would still leave the Vikings with a $1.7M net cost for cutting Gladney early into his rookie year (before accounting for his replacement on the roster, which would add at least another $660,000 to the net cap hit). The Vikings could bring that net cap hit down to around zero by cutting Gladney after June 1 (which would defer the signing bonus acceleration until 2022), but even if his guarantees were voided, the Vikings wouldn’t save much money doing so.

The Vikings may still end up cutting ties with Gladney, the same way the Tennessee Titans did with Isaiah Wilson a few weeks back when they traded him to the Miami Dolphins for a seventh-round pick swap. They may not save much money by doing so, but for a team that consistently emphasizes how much character matters, places a major emphasis on character in scouting, and has recently launched several robust social justice initiatives, that may be a price the Vikings are willing to pay.


So Where Does That Leave Gladney?

If convicted, Gladney’s football career would likely be over and he would face at least two years in jail (and possibly much more). And while it seems fairly unlikely that Gladney will end up being convicted or pleading no contest to a felony charge resulting in significant jail time, his actions will likely result in at least a six-game suspension for the 2021 season, assuming the NFL’s own investigation corroborates the initial CBS 11 News report.

On top of that, the Vikings will deal out their own punishment, up to and including cutting Gladney. While cutting him would not save them much money and would mean a huge waste of a first-round draft pick, the draft capital now is a sunk cost, and in the long run, cutting Gladney may be best for the team as a whole. While his actions came after the team had already signed Patrick Peterson and Mackensie Alexander, having that added depth could certainly cushion the blow.

And of course, there is always the option the Vikings retain Gladney, let the legal process play out, and give him the option to rehabilitate. That is the route Rick Spielman ultimately took with Peterson, who kept the star running back on his roster despite serious abuse allegations. And that is also the route several current Vikings players have taken. While Dalvin Cook never was alleged to have committed anything as heinous as the alleged abuse Gladney is accused of here, Cook was arrested and charged multiple times for minor criminal offenses in high school and college, and now is not just a leader and team captain but the very face of the franchise.

For now, fans will have to let the legal process play itself out. If the allegations are at all true, we can hope one day Gladney can make amends, as a productive member of society, if not necessarily as a member of the Minnesota Vikings. But regardless of whether the allegations are true or not, we can hope for and demand justice — both for the victims that come forward and for the many other victims who never get the chance.

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