With the new developments in the Tyreek Hill saga, let’s take a lawyer’s look at the legal drama surrounding the Chiefs’ star wide receiver.
There has been a new stirring of information lately surrounding Chiefs’ wide receiver Tyreek Hill and the investigation into reports of child abuse. As a practicing lawyer, I have some insight into where we are now, so let’s take a look from the legal side.
Hill and his fiancee Crystal Espinal’s son was removed from the home in March 2019 after suspected child abuse and neglect was reported to Johnson County authorities. Since that time, Hill and Espinal have been under investigation to determine if criminal charges should be filed. While the child has been removed from the home, Hill and Espinal have also been engaged in family court which is a process to work towards reunification of the family. Given Hill’s history with domestic violence against Espinal, this has been a hot headline with a significant amount of misinformation being passed around. Let’s take a brief look at the most recent update
On Friday, June 7, it was reported that the criminal investigation into Tyreek Hill was inactive. This comes after reports that the District Attorney’s office had reopened the investigation after the leaked audio of Hill threatening his fiancee, Crystal Espinal. What exactly does an inactive criminal investigation mean? This means that at this moment in time, there is not enough evidence for the District Attorney to press charges against a party. In this case, it appears that the District Attorney cannot determine who (between Hill and Espinal) caused injury to their child. They know an injury did occur—described as rising to a criminal level—but they cannot definitively prove who caused the injury.
In a criminal trial, the District Attorney must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person accused of the crime actually committed it. We live in a society where you are innocent until proven guilty, so it is not your job to prove you are innocent. It is instead, the job of the State to prove you are guilty, and the State must prove you are guilty to the point where no reasonable person could believe you weren’t guilty. That is a very high standard and explains why there are so many instances when a criminal case cannot bring a guilty verdict but a civil case can. A civil case requires a “more likely than not” type of burden called a preponderance of the evidence, which means it is more likely than not that the person did the act they are being sued for.
In this case, the District Attorney could not definitively say that Hill or Espinal committed the crime even though they knew one was committed. That is why the status of the case is inactive. This does not mean, however, that charges can never be brought. If new evidence comes to light, the District Attorney can certainly reopen the investigation and bring charges within three years. In Kansas, the statute of limitations is three years in cases like this. After that, there can be no charges. So, while the case is inactive, it certainly is not closed.
On June 10, 810 Sports reported that neither Hill nor Espinal broke their son’s arm. Rather, that it was medically determined to be caused by him falling and attempting to brace himself against the fall. Then they reported that Espinal asked a third party to report that Hill broke his son’s arm because she felt Hill had become too controlling and abusive in their relationship. This started the entire investigation. On a welfare check in March, authorities observed welts and bruises on their son. Both admitted that it was the result of spanking and using a belt as punishment, and both have admitted they engaged in these behaviors. The District Attorney could not determine who went too far in the use of corporal punishment; hence the comment at a previous press conference that said a crime had been committed but they could not prove who did it.
So what has changed now? Really nothing. Their child still remains out of their custody, but it does appear that Tyreek Hill is having, at a minimum, supervised visits with his son. Why the visitation? Because Hill and Espinal still remain in family court. They are likely engaged in a reunification plan with the Court. This usually entails some sort of counseling, likely to learn proper parenting behaviors—as well as visits with the child—and regular court appearances to ensure progress is being made. There is a time frame on these cases so that a child is not displaced indefinitely, but the news right now is positive. If things were not going well, it is unlikely that visits would be occurring.
There are still a great number of things that we do not know, however. Family court is notoriously closed off. They must do this to protect the child, so we may not know the outcome of this entire situation until the child is permanently removed or placed back in either one or both parents’ care. We won’t know the steps they took to reunite with their child, and we won’t know the details of the abuse. What we do know is that with Court oversight, Hill and Espinal are likely working to regain custody of their son. They are likely not allowed to be near each other given the volatile nature of their relationship, and their son is hopefully getting the help he needs.
So will Hill play for the Chiefs this year? Your guess is as good as mine, but if I was a betting woman, I would say yes. Hill has not been charged with a crime, but I do not believe the league will let him off without some sort of punishment. The NFL will likely exercise its discretion under the “conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the NFL” section of the Personal Conduct Policy. I would guess his audio threats will result in a four-game suspension similar to Jimmy Smith.
At the end of the day, we are thankful that neither Hill nor Espinal intentionally or maliciously broke their son’s arm, but we are devastated that they did not use proper punishment techniques on their son. We are hopeful that they are taking to heart the counseling that they are in and that they learn proper parenting techniques. We are especially hopeful that the child is safe and can return to his parents and to a loving and nurturing environment.
Until the next story breaks, hang in there Chiefs Kingdom and remember, never take legal advice from this website. If you have a legal issue, contact an attorney.