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The Fear Doesn’t End When The Abuse Does

An image of football player Chad Wheeler as he is talking to reporters and standing in front of his locker.
Image via MSG Network

On Monday afternoon, Chad Wheeler's girlfriend told a Kent, Wash., court that she still did not feel safe. It had been 10 days since police had gone to her apartment in response to multiple 911 calls saying Wheeler had been beating and choking her, a week since the story became public, and about six days since the Seattle Seahawks announced they would not re-sign the backup offensive lineman. Since then, Wheeler had been jailed, posted bond, and criminally charged in court. He entered a plea of not guilty, and a judge denied his request to return to Hawaii, where he has a home. But on Monday, a statement from the woman was read aloud in court. Per the Seattle Times's Bob Condotta, it began by saying, "I want you to know that I believe that as long as he is out of custody, I am not safe."

From the Times:

“Now, Chad is out of custody staying in a hotel watching this play out on social media,” the statement read. “This current status places my safety at risk, and I do not believe that a protective order or a condition of release is sufficient to keep me safe.

“I object to him serving his time in Seattle, which places me at risk. I also object to him serving his time essentially on vacation in Hawaii. He and I were supposed to be on vacation together at that location. Instead, I am here, undergoing medical treatment, handling a barrage of attention and abuse on social media, and dealing with the ramifications of this horrific attack. Permitting Chad to serve his time in Hawaii under these circumstances is not acceptable.”

Also on Monday, Kent police released 30 pages of case reports from the night they responded to the woman's home. In great detail, the documents illustrate why the woman would not feel safe. They describe how violent police say Wheeler acted that night, and note that at least one officer suggested the charge of attempted murder, which was not filed in court. In the reports, police officers write about how they brought down Wheeler—who in their descriptions was much larger than them, stronger than them, and repeatedly resisted arrest—without ever drawing their guns.

Chad Wheeler and his girlfriend had been dating for about six months, she told officers, and they hadn't gotten into any serious fights. But about 3 p.m. on Jan 21, the woman told police, she received a photo from Wheeler of his hair completely shaved off. It didn't make sense to her. She told one officer, according to a report, that "his long shoulder-length hair was his 'thing.'" She texted with a friend about this, saying something seemed wrong. Worried, the woman left work to check on Wheeler. Her friend later told police that the woman said she thought she could calm down Wheeler and talk things out.

When the woman got home, she says she realized that Wheeler was having a manic episode. (Wheeler later confirmed this in a statement.) That night, Wheeler suddenly "snapped into a dark place," according to one police report. The woman told officers that she knew Wheeler had bipolar disorder, but she had never had any issues with him in their six months of dating.

The next warning sign came later that evening, when the woman's sister had been talking to Wheeler about getting dinner. The sister told police that when she that got off the phone, she saw that she had missed text messages from the woman saying, "He's having a manic episode say no please. I'm okay," according to one police report. The sister then tried calling multiple times, but got no answer; only vague text messages. The woman's final text to her sister that night, sent a little after 8:30 p.m., said, per a police report, "He's having a hard time. I need to keep him calm. Please call dad. He tried to call me."

The woman estimated to police, per their reports, that Wheeler started attacking her at about 9 p.m. He told her to bow down to him. "She refused and started crying," one officer wrote in their report. Wheeler grabbed her by the neck and threw her on the bed, holding her throat with both hands, per a police report. He later took one of his hands and crushed it against her nose and mouth, police wrote. She tried to fight back as she began to lose consciousness, so Wheeler grabbed her left arm and twisted it to stop her. The first time she regained consciousness, according to one police report, Wheeler began strangling her again. She then regained consciousness a second time.

"When she looked into the mirror and saw that her face was covered in blood, she quickly remembered what had happened. Chad came to the doorway of the bedroom, looked at her, and said, 'Oh, you're still alive,'" one officer wrote in their report. "[The woman] described Chad sounding 'happy, surprised, but cold,' when he said that sentence. She agreed that it sounded very matter-of-fact and robotic."

She ran to the bathroom, locked the door, and called 911. At 9:43 p.m., the woman texted her friend asking her to call the police and sent her a picture with blood on her face, according to the reports. Her friend called 911. She texted her father and her brother-in-law. A minute later, about 9:45 p.m., the girlfriend herself called 911. The dispatcher couldn't hear much but heard hard breathing and the woman's saying she was being "killed" and she could not go outside, according to a police report. The woman later told an officer, "She was scared to talk on the phone because she did not want Chad to overhear."

Wheeler got inside the bathroom. The woman told police that she had opened one of the bathroom's two doors, thinking officers were about to arrive. Wheeler rushed inside where he started apologizing to her. She started screaming. Later, at the hospital, an officer would ask the woman if she thought she was going to die. She said, "I thought I already had."

Between all the calls, officers knew before they arrived that they would be confronting a member of the Seahawks. It wasn't easy. In their reports, the officers went into great detail and for many paragraphs about the various holds and techniques they used to try and bring down the 300-plus-pound lineman within the tiny confines of the bathroom. At one point, an officer tased Wheeler in his left leg, "with little to no effect." One officer lists Wheeler's height and weight and job as a football lineman to explain why it took so many of them to subdue him. Wheeler repeatedly ignored their commands to stop resisting, yet officers do not write about even considering using their firearms on him. One officer wrote in their report that they later released Wheeler from his leg restraints while they waited for the jail van to arrive.

When officers did arrive they reported hearing screaming from inside the apartment. Two officers kicked down the door to get inside, according to their reports, where they realized the screaming was coming from the bathroom. The bathroom door was locked, so an officer kicked that one in too. Inside, they found Wheeler with his arms around the woman; one report describes it as Wheeler "holding her around the chest," another said he was restraining her. Wheeler let her go once the police arrived, according to the report, and her face was covered in blood. A sergeant pulled the woman from the bathroom while the rest of the officers worked to bring down Wheeler.

Eventually the officers got Wheeler to the ground, where he continued to try and resist them. During the struggle, one officer wrote that Wheeler yelled out, "I'm sorry!" and "I love you!"

Afterward, multiple officers wrote that they saw a pool of blood on the bed comforter. The woman's face was bloody, her left arm was limp, and she was crying in pain. She called her dad, police wrote, telling him that he needed to come over.

Multiple officers wrote that they had their body cameras on during the call. They took photos of the woman's injuries. So many officers responded that, in total, 14 separate reports were filed. One officer even wrote that they brought with them "breaching equipment and a 40MM impact munition launcher" in case it was needed, which it was not.

About five minutes after midnight, a sergeant wrote, "I was dispatched to call the Director of Team Security for the Seahawks, George Englebright. He was given this case number and told Wheeler would be booked into King County Jail on felony charges."

One of the police reports mentions the possibility of a charge of attempted murder. The officer wrote, "I completed a certification for determination of probable cause for attempted murder in the second degree." According to the Times, Wheeler is charged with felony first-degree assault, unlawful imprisonment domestic violence, and resisting arrest.

From here, Wheeler's case will work its way through the criminal justice system. He's been dropped by the Seahawks, and I doubt that any team will sign him, at least for now. To some this might feel like the end of the story. He isn't in the NFL anymore, he's been charged, what more is there to say? At the very least, I'm sure the Seahawks and the NFL would prefer it that way.

But I want to ask you to take a moment to linger on the words of his girlfriend in court: "I am not safe."

Doing nothing is, of course, not an option. But throwing Wheeler in prison indefinitely is, at best, a very temporary solution, one that endorses the carceral state and ignores that prisons do not make people less violent or make life safer. As the United States' reaction to intimate-partner violence is currently constructed, everything can go "right" for a victim—a heavy police response, a swift arrest, charges, a protective order—and that person can still tell a court they do not feel safe. What this woman wants, what ever person who has survived violence wants, is to know that the violence is past, that the perpetuator of the violence has changed. It is a request, a perfectly valid request, that the system isn't capable of fulfilling.

I know this story will soon fade from the headlines; it mostly already has. Because the Super Bowl is right around the corner, because Wheeler was just a backup, because there's still a global pandemic raging and Congress can't get financial relief to the millions of Americans who need it. Hell, hours later on Monday the Athletic revealed that former Mets manager and current Angels pitching coach Mickey Callaway had harassed multiple women who worked in sports media while they were trying to do their jobs. This world does not lack for reasons for be outraged. But one out of every four women and one out of every 10 men will experience intimate-partner abuse in their lives. And for many of them, that's merely where the fear begins.

If you or someone you know needs help, the National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 1-800-799-7233 or by clicking here.

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