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Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was booked and released from a Texas jail on a child abuse charge early Saturday, capping a tumultuous week for the NFL in which criticism intensified about how it handled a domestic violence case involving another star player.
Peterson was processed at the Montgomery County jail and released on $15,000 bond, according to a sheriff’s office spokesman, Lt. Brady Fitzgerald. He is charged with causing injury to a child age 14 or younger, allegedly by spanking one of his sons with a wooden switch, or tree branch, in May.
The star running back won’t play Sunday in Minnesota’s home opener against New England. Shortly after the news of the indictment broke Friday, the Vikings announced that Peterson had been benched for the game against the Patriots.
Brian McCarthy, a spokesman for the league, said Saturday that Peterson’s case “will be reviewed under the NFL’s personal conduct policy.”
It wasn’t immediately clear if Peterson remained in Texas after leaving the jail or if he returned to Minnesota. There was no activity outside of his home near Houston and a man who answered the door at his home near Minneapolis said Peterson wasn’t there. Chris Peterson, who said he’s the player’s uncle, said Peterson would issue a statement “when he’s ready.”
Peterson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, said Friday that his client “has never hidden from what happened” in the case.
“Adrian is a loving father who used his judgment as a parent to discipline his son. He used the same kind of discipline with his child that he experienced as a child growing up in East Texas,” Hardin said.
He said Peterson cooperated fully with the investigation, voluntarily testifying before a grand jury for several hours.
“It is important to remember that Adrian never intended to harm his son and deeply regrets the unintentional injury,” Hardin said.
Peterson’s arrest came with the NFL under scrutiny for its handling of a domestic violence case involving former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. Now, the league has another public relations problem with the charge of child abuse against an even bigger star in Peterson.
Commissioner Roger Goodell announced tougher penalties last month for players accused of domestic violence: six weeks for a first offense and at least a year for a second violation.
His memo to all 32 teams, following criticism over handling of a case against Rice, also said more severe discipline will be imposed “if there are aggravating circumstances such as the presence or use of a weapon, choking, repeated striking, or when the act is committed against a pregnant woman or in the presence of a child.”
The league said it would consider Peterson’s case under its personal conduct policy. Peterson faces up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine if found guilty.
At a news conference later Saturday, Phil Grant, a Montgomery County prosecutor, said the grand jury felt the charge was warranted after spending several weeks reviewing “lots of evidence.”
“Obviously, parents are entitled to discipline their children as they see fit, except when that discipline exceeds what the community would say is reasonable,” Grant said. “The grand jury looked at the injuries to this child and determined that discipline was not reasonable and did not reflect community standards of what was reasonable discipline.”
Grant said “very sensitive information” gathered during the investigation was apparently leaked, including images of the child’s injuries that have been circulating online. He said child abuse investigations in Texas are confidential, and that his office is trying to find the source of the leak.
The stunning sequence of events for the NFL reignited a debate about corporal punishment and added fuel to a fire burning hot since Rice first received a two-game suspension for hitting his then-fiancee.
Goodell acknowledged he “didn’t get it right” and an investigation headed by former FBI director Robert Mueller was convened after a longer version of a security video surfaced revealing Rice’s punch to the face of his now-wife in a casino elevator that knocked her out cold. The Ravens released Rice after the longer video surfaced.
The league has also come under scrutiny in the cases of Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy and San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Ray McDonald, both still playing with domestic abuse cases pending. Hardy was convicted July 15 of assaulting a woman and communicating threats, but he is appealing. San Jose police have been continuing to actively investigate an Aug. 31 incident involving McDonald.
Widely considered the best running back in the league, Peterson has rushed for 10,190 yards and 86 touchdowns in his eight-year career including a 2,097-yard season in 2012 that fell 9 yards short of the all-time record.
Hardin, his defense attorney, is a familiar name in sports circles. He successfully defended Roger Clemens in his recent perjury trial over the alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs and two years ago represented Los Angeles Lakers forward Jordan Hill, who was sentenced to one year of probation after pleading no contest to assaulting his former girlfriend.
Peterson had a tragedy unfold around him last season involving one of his children. Not long after finding out that he had a 2-year-old son living in South Dakota, Peterson rushed to a hospital there after police said the boy was brutally beaten by his mother’s boyfriend. The boy died, and a 28-year-old man is scheduled for trial next month on second-degree murder charges.
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