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Posted: Jan. 31, 2013

Crime inside NFL stadiums hidden from police


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Greg Skahill holds his prized jersey.

By KIRO 7 Investigative Reporter Chris Halsne

SEATTLE —

The National Football League keeps detailed records of crime, alcohol abuse and security failures inside every NFL stadium on game day, but, in an effort to protect certain teams from public scrutiny, keeps the data secret.

A months-long investigation by KIRO-TV in Seattle (CBS/Cox Media Group) found that many local police departments are helping the NFL’s cause, by either failing to create crime reports or underreporting incidents that occur in the stands and nearby parking lots during football games.

In an effort to independently compile fan-related crime statistics, KIRO 7 contacted police departments covering all 32 NFL teams and requested information from police reports taken on game days.

So far, investigative reporter Chris Halsne has reviewed about 10,000 incidents over two-and-a half seasons.

Hundreds of felony-level crime arrests appear in the reports; including, rape, kidnapping, lynching, theft, drug dealing, child sexual abuse and aggravated assault of police officers. Thousands more cases of misdemeanor and citable offenses like public intoxication, simple assault, exposure and scalping also show up in the reports reviewed. 

Police records show Seahawks fans have logged at least 25 assault cases at CenturyLink since the 2010 season. However, that number is likely higher because a comprehensive study of the reports also shows crimes inside most NFL stadiums are being grossly underreported.

Case in point, Magnolia resident, Greg Skahill had his face bashed in during the infamous 4th quarter of the Seahawks/Packers game on September 24.

“This side was actually swollen out to about here,” Skahill said gesturing inches away from the left side of his face. “My eye, I couldn’t open it the first night… my nose, I had to get it re-broken at Harborview. My orbital bone was fractured as well as my nose. My teeth, they say, won't be normal for about two years.”

Skahill wasn't involved in a fight. He was blindsided walking down a back ramp alone. No fan helped him; nobody came forward as a witness.

EMTs treated Skahill inside a stadium medical room after he was found unconscious by the Seahawks security team.

“This was covered in blood probably about that much,” he said, pointing to the bottom of his Green Bay Aaron Rogers jersey he’d been wearing during the assault.

We'd share more details from the police report taken that day but nobody took one.

The Seahawks security team, which includes off-duty uniformed police officers, now blame the victim for that.

A Seahawks representative refused to be interviewed on camera but told KIRO 7 on the phone that Skahill left for the hospital before someone could write a report.

Skahill disputed that: “Nothing was filled out at the stadium; nothing was offered at the stadium.”

The Seahawks also refused to provide KIRO 7 with security logs, which would show how long Skahill waited or if security was dispatched to file a report at all.

Skahill said it was at least 45 minutes from the time he was beaten to the time his girlfriend finally asked if she could take him to a local hospital for treatment.

Seattle police have since opened an aggravated assault case because Skahill’s girlfriend called SPD on his behalf the morning after the attack. KIRO 7 obtained that call and the dispatcher is clearly surprised an officer hadn’t been sent sooner.

Police told us Seahawks security should have called 911 immediately.

“When we’re talking about violent crime, felony-level crime, where people are physically assaulted… our rules are very clear. If that happens, we have a responsibility to investigate, make arrests if possible—at least document what happened,” said Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, a spokesperson for SPD.

The NFL insists each team fill out a two-page, fan-conduct security spreadsheet after every game. The number of ejections, arrests, police incidents and even where and when alcohol-related troubles occur stays "confidential".

The Atlanta Falcons shared theirs with us; otherwise, we would never have known the NFL kept such detailed records on stadium crime.

The NFL doesn't require teams use police, even for violent felony crimes, so many don't. St. Louis police can’t explain why they only filled out three crime reports at the Rams last 14 home games.

Cincinnati-area law enforcement authorities told us they documented just eight crimes during Bengals games over the last two seasons. Minneapolis police said the same. The Vikings only called them eight times in the past 21 games.

“I would say the likelihood of that is negligible at best,” said Jonathan Wender, an expert on large-crowd behavior.

Wender is a University of Washington sociology professor and former police officer.

“The reality is, if you take tens of thousands of people and put them into a highly-charged environment where there are rivalries between teams, rivalries in the stands, lots of alcohol, lots of testosterone, you’re bound to have incidents,” Wender said.

KIRO 7 is still waiting for responsive records from numerous cities, for public records requests lodged in October. Those cities include: Baltimore, Buffalo, Charlotte, Detroit, San Diego, Philadelphia and the Prince George’s County Police Department which patrols Washington Redskins games.

Other police agencies had a simple but effective way to deter public records requests. Arlington, Texas police, who monitor Cowboys games, said they’d pull relevant crime information only if KIRO 7 paid $855.20.

Similarly, lawyers for the city of New Orleans said a simple search of their computer database would cost $150. That was the cost of conducting the search alone; any specific report would cost an additional $25.

The best data available came from San Francisco police, who demand a full public accounting of game-day incidents. The information was the most detailed and comprehensive; yet, it was also provided to us for free and within a day of the request.

Last season, the 49ers had 3415 incidents, including 23 felony arrests, 201 fights and 630 ejections from the stadium.

Raiders, Broncos, Packers, Patriots and Cardinals fans had comparable, although slightly lower, crime figures at their respective home games.  

The NFL employees declined an on-camera interview but said they will share internal data on fan conduct, which they gather all season long, with team owners at a series of meetings in March.

Meanwhile, we know the Seahawks are at least one aggravated assault report short in its count.

Skahill wishes police would have caught the person or people responsible for his assault but understands that’s nearly impossible without security taking down the most basic of information about the crime shortly after it occurred. He’d appreciate any witnesses stepping forward to help solve the September 24, 2012 crime.

The care of his broken nose, facial bone and a required root canal to repair some teeth cost Skahill about $12,000 in medical bills. That’s in addition to about a week’s worth of lost wages.

The Seahawks haven’t offered to help pay for any of it, nor offered an apology.

“I probably won’t be going back to Seahawks stadium any time soon,” Skahill said.

KIRO 7’s investigative team first contacted the Seattle Seahawks on January 2, regarding the assault on Skahill.

After declining repeated requests for an on-camera interview, the communications division emailed us a written statement January 30 – just prior to our publishing deadline.

It reads as follows:

“Fan safety is our highest priority which is why we hire more than 550 off-duty law enforcement officers and security personnel each game day,” said Adam Link, vice president/general manager at CenturyLink Field.  “The Seahawks organization will continue to be diligent and proactive to ensure our stadium experience remains one of the best and safest in the league.”

When a fan is hurt during a sporting event there is often little recourse. The fine print on the back of the ticket often reads that attending games comes with certain risks.

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