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Patriots defend Matt Patricia, were 'not aware' of case

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia makes a statement Thursday in Allen Park.

Matt Patricia's long-time boss, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, said Thursday he was "not aware" of the 1996 sexual-assault allegations against the new Lions coach.

In a statement to The Detroit News from the Patriots, Belichick said:

“The New England Patriots were not aware of the matter which recently came to light. 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.”

More: NFL says it will review Patricia ‘matter’ with Lions

Patricia, 43, was on the Patriots' staff from 2004-17, rising from offensive assistant to defensive coordinator the past four seasons, before the Lions hired him.

The News reported Wednesday night that Patricia, when he was 21, and a college friend were arrested and indicted on allegations of sexual assault following a spring-break trip to South Padre Island in Texas.

The case was eventually dismissed when the accuser declined to testify, citing "the pressures or stress of a trial."

Patricia met the media Thursday and said the allegations have never come up in all the interviews he's had over the years, including with the Lions.

Patricia vehemently declared his innocence, saying, "I was innocent then, and I am innocent now."

The Lions released statements Wednesday night saying that while they were unaware of the allegations when they hired him, they support him. Owner Martha Ford, president Rod Wood and general manager Bob Quinn were at Thursday's press conference, but did not take questions.

A spokesperson for Syracuse, where Patricia was a graduate assistant from 2001-03, said the school couldn't comment, citing student-privacy laws. Amherst, Patricia's previous coaching stop, didn't respond to a request for comment.

Joe King, the former head coach at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute who hired Patricia as a graduate assistant in 1996 soon after the incident in Texas, told Sports Illustrated he had no knowledge of Patricia's arrest.

“I’m going to be honest with you, I never heard anything about it, which is kind of hard to believe," he said. "This is the first I’ve heard of it. Honest to God.”

Meanwhile Thursday, the client that hired a New Jersey-based private investigations company to obtain a copy of the indictment from a Texas court in January remained a mystery.

A spokesman for the New York Giants, who interviewed Patricia, a New York native, for their head-coaching job, declined to answer if the team had hired APG Security or conducted a background check of Patricia. He reportedly was the team’s leading candidate in mid-January. They eventually hired Pat Shurmur.