The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office on Thursday announced charges against linebacker Reuben Foster that even the 49ers organization labeled as “disturbing.”
Foster remains a member of the 49ers, as the allegations that surfaced this week were not enough to prompt the 49ers to release him.
The DA’s office announced three felony charges:
--Domestic violence with an allegation that he inflicted great bodily injury;
--Forcefully attempting to prevent a victim from reporting a crime;
--Possession of an assault weapon (a Sig Sauer 516).
Foster is also charged with one misdemeanor:
--Possession of large capacity weapon magazine.
If convicted of those crimes, Foster faces more than 11 years in prison, according to the DA’s office.
A lot remains unanswered about Foster’s situation, but let’s start with these questions:
What happened on Feb. 11 in Los Gatos?
We only know what has been alleged.
And it appears obvious the decision-makers of the 49ers are skeptical of the information the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office included in its report. One side of the story has been made public. The 49ers have heard the other side from Foster.
According to the DA’s office: “The victim told responding sheriff’s deputies and Los Gatos police that Foster dragged her by her hair, physically threw her out of the house, and punched her in the head eight to 10 times.”
The DA’s office reports the alleged victim was bruised and sustained a ruptured ear drum.
General manager John Lynch, coach Kyle Shanahan and others with the organization have spoken to Foster multiple times since his arrest. The 49ers likely did not know the nature of the allegations the DA’s office would report – or they remain unconvinced that is really what occurred.
In a statement the 49ers issued approximately 90 minutes after the formal charges were announced, the team described the allegations as “disturbing.”
The 49ers stated Foster’s future with the team will depend on what is learned through the legal process.
This is clear: If Foster hit the woman once – let alone eight to 10 times – and, certainly, if his actions caused her to sustain a ruptured ear drum, the 49ers do not have any other option but to release him.
Is there a double standard?
Lynch has bristled at the suggestion the 49ers cut Tramaine Brock within hours of his arrest after an alleged domestic incident last spring because Brock was not a good enough player to justify sticking with him. Lynch has noted Brock was a starting cornerback. The 49ers’ weakest position last season was cornerback.
CEO Jed York spoke two weeks ago at the NFL owners meetings about the difficulty of figuring out the truth in events such as these. The club has repeatedly stated all situations are unique. The 49ers concluded very early through the flow of information after the alleged Brock incident that it was best to cut ties with him than let the legal process fully play out.
The 49ers spoke with Brock, and almost immediately cut him. The 49ers talked with Foster, and have decided to let the legal process play out.
Two months after Brock’s arrest, the DA’s office formally charged him with the felony crime – just as it did Thursday with Foster. Two months after that, the DA’s office dismissed charges against Brock, citing lack of sufficient evidence after the alleged victim was uncooperative with investigators.
The NFL determined Brock did not violate the league’s policy on personal conduct, and he was cleared to continue his career without any discipline.
What are the differing stances of 49ers and DA’s office?
The 49ers announced on Thursday that Foster would not be cut at this time. The team stated Foster was aware his spot in the organization was “under great scrutiny.”
The 49ers clearly want to believe Foster. They want him on the team because he is a good football player and they invested a first-round pick in him last year when there were already questions about his character and his shoulder.
The DA’s office also appears to have extra motivation to prove its allegations against Foster. In a statement, prosecutor Kevin Smith made it clear he is looking to shine a light on domestic violence through this case.
“Our office handles between 4,000 and 5,000 domestic violence cases each year,” Smith said. “We only hope that this case illuminates the tragic regularity of the rest.”
The DA’s office sent the signal Thursday that it will press forward even if the alleged victim does not cooperate from this point forward.
There is likely to be talk of a plea agreement. But if Foster’s attorney, Joshua Bentley, does not believe there is enough evidence to convict Foster of the crimes with which he has been charged, he could put the pressure back on the DA’s office to either proceed with a trial or dismiss the domestic violence case.
What’s at stake for the 49ers?
Foster is, potentially, a great player. But is the pay off of sticking with him worth the risk of tarnishing the reputations of the new football regime? No – of course, not.
As a football player, Foster is expendable. The 49ers can plug in another player. Maybe that player will be nowhere near as dynamic as Foster, but life will go on – the team will adjust.
The 49ers already took a step to soften the blow for the potential of losing Foster with the signing of veteran linebacker Korey Toomer. He started 16 games over the past two seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers. The team can also look to add a player in the draft – even, perhaps, considering that player with the No. 9 overall pick.
But, at this point, if the 49ers were to release Foster without allowing him due process, the organization runs the risk of alienating the locker room, too. Richard Sherman and Jaquiski Tartt appeared in support of Foster at his court appearance Thursday afternoon. Foster’s teammates are watching how the club handles this, too.
The 49ers’ offseason program begins on Monday. Everyone will be watching to see if the 49ers advise Foster to remain away from the “voluntary” program at the team’s facility in Santa Clara.
York said recently it is a priority for the 49ers organization is to work proactively to prevent players from incidents in which Foster allegedly became involved in Los Gatos.
The 49ers have long held the belief that troubled individuals can often benefit from the structure and support of being around a team. Therefore, it would make sense that the 49ers would want Foster to take part in the offseason program to benefit from the programs the team has in place.
After all, Foster’s problems since coming to the NFL largely began when the season ended and he did not have that structure in his life. It could be viewed as counter-productive to, in essence, lock him out of the building.
At the same time, there are the poor optics involved in such a strategy. And the 49ers will come under their own “great scrutiny” if Foster is allowed to carry on without any ramifications while he remains under the suspicion of the serious allegations the DA’s office presented against him.