“He is Terrified of You”: The Legal Implications and Questions Surrounding the Tyreek Hill Audio

Written by Richard H. Miller III

Introduction

On April 25, 2019, just a day after Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe declined to criminally charge Kansas City Chiefs Star Tyreek Hill, the Office re-opened their investigation into possible domestic abuse following the release of an audio tape detailing a conversation between Hill and his fiancée, Crystal Espinal. Hill, a three-time pro bowl wide receiver, has been under investigation by the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office for domestic violence related to a March-incident at his residence involving Espinal and his three-year-old son.

The Accusations

The Johnson County DA’s Office has been investigating Hill and Espinal for child abuse-related offenses involving their three-year-old son. When responding to a 911 call in March, investigators found the boy with a broken arm at the Hill residence; this prompted a full investigation into potential abuse of the child. While Hill and Espinal have publicly denied allegations of physically abusing their son, calling his broken arm “an accident,” Child Protective Services have removed the child from Hill and Espinal’s custody.

On April 24, 2019, District Attorney Steve Howe ended the investigation into possible child abuse, saying that “we believe a crime has occurred, however, the evidence in this case does not conclusively establish who committed this crime.” However, on April 25, 2019, after KCTV5 aired exclusive new audio of Tyreek Hill discussing the allegations, the District Attorney’s Office re-opened the child abuse investigation.

The Recording

The recording is over eleven minutes long and was obtained by KCTV5 in early April. The conversation was allegedly recorded by Espinal while the couple was vacationing in Dubai, India as an “insurance policy” incase Hill tried to accuse Espinal of abusing their son or otherwise incriminating her.

The recording revolves around the domestic abuse allegations surrounding the couple’s three-year-old son and the investigation into the couples’ role in his broken arm. In it, Espinal states how their son tells her how “daddy did it” and how the child is “terrified” of Hill due to being frequently punched in the chest by Hill and being hit with belt as a form of discipline. Hill then responds to Espinal, saying “[y]ou need to be terrified of me, too, [expletive]” and subsequently denies any role in breaking the boy’s arm.

The Recording’s Legal Implications and Questions

The recording could be used as a basis to prosecute Crystal Espinal for unlawful dissemination. Section 21-6101 of the Kansas Penal Code makes it a misdemeanor for anyone to surreptitiously record or disseminate a surreptitious recording, obtained without the consent of both parties to the conversation. The Breach of Privacy Law allows for a few enumerated exceptions to the requirement of two-party consent, but these exceptions only apply to wireless service providers and those acting with a “bona fide and lawful scientific, educational, governmental, news or other similar public purpose.” Absent an exception to the Law, it is illegal for a person to record another without their consent or to disseminate a recording of another obtained without their consent.

Espinal allegedly recorded Hill without his consent and used this recording as a form of insurance policy against Hill. While it is unclear whether it was Ms. Espinal who sent this information to KCTV5, by knowingly divulging the content of a message or conversation with another person recorded without their consent, Espinal may be in violation of the Breach of Privacy Law, and subject to criminal prosecution.

Additionally, the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office may use this recording in any potential prosecution of Tyreek Hill. While the recording and its dissemination may itself be a basis for criminal charges, it does not appear that the DA’s Office would be prohibited from using the recording against Hill in a criminal case. The Kansas Rules of Evidence allow for a judge, at their discretion, to exclude evidence “if he or she finds that its probative value is substantially outweighed by the risk that its admission will unfairly and harmfully surprise a party who has not had reasonable opportunity to anticipate that such evidence would be offered.” However, with Tyreek Hill and his attorney now being aware of the contents of the audio tape, there would not be the “undue surprise” which is prohibited by the rule.

Conclusion

Although it is uncertain what charges, if any, the Johnson County District Attorney will bring against Tyreek Hill or Crystal Espinal, there is sure to be a legal fight as to the admissibility of the eleven-minute audio tape obtained by KCTV5. Whether the tape will be used to prosecute Crystal Espinal, whether it can or will be used in potential prosecution of Tyreek Hill, or whether the tape could lead to any civil liability for Hill are all questions for another day. In the words of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, absent more facts or a formal indictment, “you don’t rush to judgment and you don’t make a decision without having [the] facts.”

Sources

Associated Press, Chiefs owner ‘deeply disturbed’ by Tyreek Hill allegations, KWCH12 (Apr. 26, 2019, 12:15pm).

Dave Skretta, DA declines to charge Chiefs’ Hill in domestic violence case, KWCH12 (Apr. 24, 2019, 3:32pm).

Kan. Law & Prac., Guide Kan. Evid. § 5:1

Kan. Stat. Ann. § 21-6101(4)

Kansas Judicial Council, 61.020 Breach of Privacy—Divulging Message (Mar. 2018).

KCTV5 obtains recording of Tyreek Hill and Crystal Espinal discussing their son’s broken arm, youtube.com (April 25, 2019).

Lorenzo Reyes, Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill accused of hitting son, threatening fiancee in audio, USA Today (Apr. 25, 2019, 9:02pm).

Mara Rose Williams, Reporter knew of Tyreek Hill audio ‘for weeks’ before source finally OK’d its release, The Kansas City Star (Apr. 26, 2019, 2:01pm).

Tyler Conway, Lawyer: Tyreek Hill ‘Categorically Denies’ Crystal Espinal’s Child Abuse Claims, Bleacher Report (May 2, 2019).

Photo Courtesy of KCTV5 Kansas City

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