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Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Zeke and the DJ: Potential Consequences for Ezekiel Elliott after Alleged Altercation at Dallas Club

Late Sunday night, Dallas Cowboys all-pro running back Ezekiel Elliott was apparently involved in a fight at Clutch Bar in Uptown Dallas.  Details are still hazy and police are reportedly still questioning witnesses and collecting evidence, but there does seem to be some consensus among the various accounts on a few facts.

First, Elliott was at Clutch on Sunday night around 9:30 p.m. CDT.  While he was there, a local DJ named Nkemakola Ibeneme (who goes by the name “DTrain”) was reportedly struck at the club by an unknown assailant between 9:30 p.m. and 9:36 p.m. CDT.  Around 9:40 p.m. CDT, police were called to the scene.  An ambulance arrived and took Ibeneme to the hospital with non life-threatening injuries. Witnesses have suggested that Ibeneme’s nose was broken by the assailant, and based on this photo of Ibeneme, that seems likely.

At least one Twitter user who claims to have been at Clutch when the alleged assault occurred says he saw Elliott strike another person.  Another witness who took a cellphone video of Ibeneme on the floor after he had been punched says it was Elliott who hit him.  However, the police report says that the suspect is unknown, and apparently Ibeneme himself does not know who hit him.  

But legally speaking, if it was Zeke who threw the punch, what is he up against here?

Assaults in Texas are generally classified as Class A misdemeanors unless they are committed against a public servant (e.g. a police officer) or a person with a familial relationship to the assailant.  However, assault that results in “serious bodily injury” to the victim is considered aggravated assault, and is considered a second degree felony.  A broken nose would likely constitute “serious bodily injury,” and the police report itself says the incident is being investigated as an aggravated assault.

A person convicted of a second degree felony in Texas will be sentenced to a term of two to 20 years in prison and fined up to $10,000.  That being said, even if Elliott committed the assault, a conviction and prison term is extremely unlikely.  Witnesses would still have to cooperate with the investigation.  Ibeneme himself could decide not to cooperate with the investigation, thereby making it difficult for charges to be brought.  And if Elliott is charged, a plea agreement in which Elliott pleads guilty to a lesser charge is likely.  All told, a conviction of Elliott for aggravated assault is still very unlikely.

Much more pressing for Elliott at this point is the potential league discipline he faces stemming from a domestic violence accusation from July 2016.  Citing conflicting stories and a lack of evidence, the district attorney’s office in Columbus, Ohio declined to charge Elliott for the alleged incident, but that doesn’t stop the NFL from investigating and potentially disciplining Elliott under the league’s Personal Conduct Policy.  Adam Schefter of ESPN reported just this past Friday, July 14 that the league had sent a report detailing its findings from the investigation to Elliott, and that Elliott was preparing to submit his response.  Schefter also reported that a one-game or two-game suspension was expected. Furthermore, there is a recent report that Elliott is appealing a misdemeanor conviction for speeding after being stopped by a Texas state trooper in April going 100 miles per hour.

Given the broad discretion the NFL holds in disciplining its players, there’s a good chance the league will take the Clutch Bar incident into account when making its decision on the length of Elliott’s suspension.  Indeed, it has been reported that the NFL is looking at the “cumulative nature” of Elliott’s behavior since he entered the league, which likely won’t bode well for him.

About John Sigety

John lives in Frisco, Texas and works as a commercial litigator for Hiersche, Hayward, Drakeley & Urbach, P.C., a full-service firm located near Dallas, Texas. John graduated from Tulane University Law School in 2012 with a certificate in Sports Law. He also served as a managing editor for The Sports Lawyers Journal and published an article in the Willamette Sports Law Journal entitled The Cost of Fair Play: An Examination of How Salary Cap Proposals Have Affected Past Collective Bargaining Agreements and Will Affect the Coming NBA Bargaining Negotiations. John graduated from Brigham Young University in 2008 with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science.

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