Matt Patricia emphatic in defense against 1996 sexual assault charge

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia passionately expressed his innocence during a seven-minute news conference Thursday, a day after a 22-year-old aggravated sexual assault indictment in Texas had been reported in the media.

Patricia, as he did in a statement Wednesday night, said he was falsely accused of one count of sexually assaulting a woman in South Padre Island, Texas, during spring break in 1996.

"The truth is on my side. I lived with the mental torture of the situation where facts can be completely ignored or misrepresented with disregard to the consequence and pain that it would create for another person," Patricia said. "I find it unfair and upsetting that someone would bring this claim up over two decades later for the sole purpose of hurting my family, my friends and this organization with the intention of trying to damage my character and credibility.

"I was innocent then, and I am innocent now. Let me be clear. My priorities remain the same, to move forward and strive to be the best coach, teacher and man that I can possibly be."

The indictment never went to trial, and the case was dismissed in January 1997, after the woman who made the accusation was "unable to testify and can not give a date certain when she will be available," according to the dismissal paperwork. "Victim does not feel she can face the pressures or stress of a trial. Victim may request that the case be refiled at a later date."

The paperwork said the woman had requested the dismissal.

Patricia declined to get into the details of the evening. According to the indictment received by ESPN on Thursday, Patricia allegedly had sexual intercourse without the woman's consent, and he and his friend, Gregory Dietrich, "compelled the victim to submit and participate by the use of physical force and violence."

The Lions coach would not say whether he had sex with the woman, only saying he did nothing wrong.

"I was accused of something that I did not do," Patricia said. "I went through the process, and the case was dismissed."

Sheldon Weisfeld, the listed attorney for Dietrich, told ESPN by email Thursday that he has no recollection of the case and destroys his case files after 10 years.

Patricia made his comments Thursday behind a podium bearing the Lions logo with team owner Martha Ford, team president Rod Wood and general manager Bob Quinn sitting off to the side. None of the organization's leadership took questions.

The 43-year-old Patricia said the allegations had never come up in interviews before and that it had "never been a part of any process that I've been involved in." He said when he has been asked about it that he has been honest about what happened.

Asked whether the Lions questioned whether he had been arrested for a felony during his interview with the team -- something allowed under Michigan state law -- Patricia was ambiguous but said he answered every question they had asked him.

"As far as the interview process is concerned," Patricia said, "there was nothing that, and Rod had spoke to it earlier, about the process, there was nothing that I did not answer."

He later said no one within the organization knew about the allegation and indictment at the time of his hiring and that it "never came up in the interview process, but I've always been truthful about it when it was addressed."

The NFL said Thursday that it would "review the matter with the club to understand the allegations and what the club has learned." New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick also said his team, which hired Patricia to various assistant coaching roles from 2004 to 2017, was not aware of the case.

"For 14 years in our organization, Matt conducted himself with great integrity and is known to be an outstanding coach, person and family man," Belichick said in a statement. "We have always been confident in Matt's character and recommended him highly to become the head coach of the Detroit Lions."

On Wednesday night, the Lions brass offered its support of Patricia in a statement released by the team.