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Dodgers After Dark: The Sexual Assaults MLB Never Investigated, A Team's Culture Unexamined

A girl, seventeen, was running.

She was bouncing around from place to place, at one point residing in a group home that helped troubled girls, including those who were vulnerable to sex trafficking.

She was vulnerable, as runaways are, to being taken advantage of and endangered. She was one of the 75% of runaways who are female. And, as runaways often do, she found support where she could. Maybe on that February night in Glendale, Arizona, a city nine miles outside of Phoenix, she felt safe when she agreed to hang out with two women, who were a few years older than her, whom she’d met through social media. Panoramic-view-during-baseball-game

Maybe the prospect of hanging out with Los Angeles Dodgers players, in town for Spring Training, sounded like fun. What she ultimately experienced was a twisted night of physical, verbal and sexual abuse. And, once she made her story known, she was subjected to more trauma.

Dodgers minor league players Alex Verdugo, James Baldwin and Julio Urias, were preparing for the regular season with the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch, the team’s spring training facility. Verdugo and Baldwin partied with the women at a Hampton Inn near the stadium, including the one who was underage. Nick Francona, then assistant of player development for the Dodgers, said Urias was present earlier, but wasn’t included in discussions about the incident.

“Urias was apparently with the group at some point during the evening, but people went to great lengths from the onset to avoid having his name involved at all and didn’t even want to ask him any questions about it,” Francona explained.

 Per the police report, as the night went on, the girl became violently ill and vomited on a bed. And, as has been widely reported, the other two girls began beating her up. One of the players filmed the girl’s beating, then posted the video to social media. The girls asked her to leave.

The girl called a friend nearby to pick her up. There was more she was holding back. She later explained that something far worse had happened to her. A case manager with the Arizona Department of Safety contacted law enforcement. During an interview with the police, the girl said that one of the players in the hotel room had sexually assaulted her. Baldwin was investigated by the Glendale Police Department for the assault.

The girl explained that she’d been drinking a lot, and felt ill, so she rested on one of the beds. Baldwin approached her and began fondling her breasts, then put his hand under her underwear, fondling her clitoris.  This wasn’t consensual, she told them. She was passing out during the act. He gave up trying when the rest of the group re-entered the room, perhaps, she said, out of frustration.

After she was assaulted and thrown out of the room, after she found someone to pick her up, she confided in her grandmother about the assault. Her grandmother contacted Gabe Kapler, then Dodgers director of player development. They discussed the attack via email. Kapler intimated that he’d handle the situation, and do his best to be of assistance. He expressed concern, and encouraged her to contact him if she had further questions. According to Kapler's public statements, he had no knowledge of the sexual assault at that point.

There were photos on record of her physical assault. Her eye was bruised, her face swollen. As for the sexual assault, when she was asked to press charges, she declined, saying it wouldn't help her situation.

In August of that same year, Major League Baseball implemented a Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Policy. The policy states that, “The Commissioner’s Office will investigate all allegations of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse involving members of the baseball community.”

There’s also this. “The Commissioner’s Office will implement additional policies to cover Minor League players…”

It’s unclear if they’ve “developed” that policy further, or if there was a loophole for the players because they were in the minor leagues. But the policy states that the intent is to investigate all reports of assault, physical and/or sexual. If you choose not to report an assault, and keep the details “internal,” MLB can, apparently, do nothing. MLB has yet to clarify if minor league players are actually held to the same standard of investigation or punishment.

And so, a vulnerable girl, without the powerful support of a major league baseball team, kept going. She was easily dismissed, easily discarded. The Dodgers could sweep her into the darkness. No one had to answer for what happened. There was no adherence to a half-baked policy. There were no consequences.

There are details in the email exchanges  between several individuals, including Francona, that reveal no one felt sure what to do about the physical assault (the only thing all personnel was aware of at that point), but everyone expected Kapler to take action.

One conversation, between Kapler and the girl’s grandmother, reads as follows:

GRANDMOTHER: {Granddaughter] has changed her mind because last night one of the girls said the guys and girls involved want to take her to dinner. She feels scared and that she’s being set up for something bad. Now I am feeling scared that she has to look over her shoulder. I really appreciate you trying to help her. Thank you.

KAPLER: I’m copying Nick Francona, our Assistant Director, Player Development.

This dinner is our initiative. We will ensure [HER] safety. We believe we can teach valuable lessons to all involved through this method of follow up. Don’t hesitate to reach out with questions. Thank you.

GRANDMOTHER: Good afternoon Gabe. [HER] boyfriend has kicked her out because of all this, so now she is without a place to live. Is there any way you can help her? She and I appreciate anything you can do to help her. Thank you.

[Kapler then sends an email with this conversation copied and pasted with the word “FYI” to Francona]

 

FRANCONA: Thank you for filling me in. Have you taken action on this?

KAPLER: No. Sleeping on it. I’m having a negative initial reaction.

 

After the Washington Post published a story on the assault and cover-up, Kapler, now manager for the Philadelphia Phillies, issued a statement. He published the full explanation on his lifestyle blog, Kaplifestyle.com,  describing his intentions in arranging the dinner.

“The sole purpose was to provide the opportunity for the victim to receive an apology.”

But in the email, he talks about the incident as being something everyone present in the hotel room needs to learn from. The young girl was essentially being asked to participate in a learning experience for people who hurt her. He said the idea was dropped once the victim declined. Were there questions about her well-being? About her emotional and physical health? The people who’d abused her were given a lot of leeway to make amends, but the victim wasn’t receiving the kind of care one requires after being exposed to violence. Even without awareness of sexual violence, physical harm had occurred, and a player in the organization had delighted in the violence against her, so much so that he thought nothing of sharing it on Snapchat.

Kapler also states that there was a request for money. In that email exchange, there’s no such request. The grandmother asks for help, because that’s what Kapler offered. Maybe that’s semantics, but the characterization that it’s a straight money grab isn’t accurate. That characterization helps shift the story: the victim as suspect. The spotlight shines on the victim’s worthiness, her level of guilt in her own victimization. The sentence “any type of offer,” quoted in Kapler’s statement, does not appear in the emails he shared with Francona. We don’t know if that request was made privately, by the victim or her grandmother, when talking to Kapler. It’s entirely possible that an exchange in which those words were spoken took place by phone, or in another email. In the only reported email to Kapler from the girl, reported by the WP, she writes, “The boys [players] got me drunk, and the girls beat me up. [Your player] videotaped it all.”

She had nothing to gain from reporting the player and pressing charges. She’d been offered an opportunity to confront her attackers, and, to possibly receive an expression of regret for the physical abuse. There was no harm in her asking for more help. That doesn’t erase her victimization.

In the email exchange, according to the grandmother, the women who physically assaulted her granddaughter initiated the dinner request. They suggested some sort of make-up dinner that involved everyone who’d hurt her. Her grandmother communicated that there was fear, on both their parts, that now the girl had to “look over her shoulder.”

The Dodgers didn't immediately know about what transpired that night. Kapler tells Francona, who’s asked if action has been taken, that he’s going to “sleep on it.” There’s also a promise to “ensure her safety.” A promise she had no reason to believe. Because she’d been assaulted, humiliated, abandoned and, after all that, asked to meet with those who’d harmed her. She didn’t know Kapler, and likely didn’t trust him any more than anyone else she met out in the world. Something told her that her safety wasn’t ensured. How Kapler felt he could do that isn’t clear. No matter how good the intention, the approach wasn’t conducive to healing trauma. It’s understandable that Kapler felt the situation was over his head. But while he’s known for an unconventional way of working with players, this was a moment he could’ve possibly benefited from some outside guidance.

He soon notified the Dodgers, and they failed to report the incident to MLB. Verdugo and Baldwin weren’t subjected to an investigation, as promised by MLB policy. And if there was any counseling or discussion, as Kapler suggested, in order to teach players responsibility, or, more to the point, to not assault women, or celebrate their abuse by videotaping a beating, there’s no record of the “teaching” they received.

As police officers tried to track down the girl again to gather additional details, they were given phones in her name. Any one of those numbers could have been current.  There was a duffel bag they were instructed they could pick up. Maybe that would leave clues. There was also the possibility that she’d been in prostitution, or as had been suspected, the victim of sex trafficking. The girl later denied that when police asked.

Her Grandmother didn’t want to rattle her granddaughter by asking her to come home again, or convince her to press charges. She’d seen no point in doing that. Her grandmother wanted something done, but, like so many girls and women, the girl didn’t do anything unusual by refusing to seek justice for herself.

That dinner never happened, of course. She’d been too afraid she was being “set up for something bad.” A thorough investigation by the police led to nothing, and the door to that night was shut.

Verdugo is competing for a job this spring, and begins the season ranked 35th on the annual MLB Pipeline Top 100 Prospects list. Baldwin left baseball, and signed with UNLV to play football.

Urias is in the mix to contribute again this season to the major league club.

As for that girl, there was only one final footnote. When detectives tried to continue the investigation by contacting her, she shut that down. She didn’t want to talk about it.

 

In February 2015, a maid at The Hampton Inn was doing her daily work. A young man staying there kept harassing her. He wouldn’t give up, despite her protests. The maid later explained this to her manager, after he’d gone too far. She told her manager that after weeks of harassment, he grabbed her from behind. And then again.

The player, Luis Rodriguez, was discussed at length by team personnel who worked in Player Development, including, again, Kapler and Francona.

An exchange via text between Duncan Webb, current director of international player development, and Francona reads as follows:

FRANCONA: Can you get on top of this?

WEBB: Oh yeah. I plan on talking with him tonight. [Field Coordinator] Clayton McCullough and I were just discussing it.

WEBB: We’ll wait to hear from Kap [Kapler], but obviously this is a pretty serious offense.

FRANCONA: Yea, it seems like it.

In a later exchange, the conversation about the woman’s assault is again discussed, after members of player development staff had a meeting after talking to Rodriguez:

FRANCONA: Any initial thoughts on how to handle Rodriguez?

WEBB: Well, we just sat down with him (Clayton, Knapp, Juan, McGrath and me). We have to go to the hotel to get the full story because he denied it. But he was shady about it. I don’t trust him.

FRANCONA: Ok, got it. My take is that if it even remotely resembles the truth, this is very serious and needs to be far more than just a talking to.

WEBB: I totally agree. I don’t want to let it slide and then have the guys think they can get away with this kind of behavior. I’m going to the hotel today to speak in person with them, and we’ll go from there. Either way, great example for the others here.

While the final sentence appears to be sarcasm, Webb and Francona were clearly trying to do some investigating of their own. 

Later, Francona checks in with Roman Barinas, Manager of international player development. He initially doesn’t know what email or incident Francona refers to. Apparently, the story wasn’t making the rounds to the proper people. Once Barinas reads the email explaining what’s happened at the hotel, he swiftly reacts.

BARINAS: Holy F**k

FRANCONA: He should be in jail.

BARINAS: This is a send him home situation.

BARINAS: Especially since it is now documented.

 

In texts between Kapler, Juan Rodriguez and McCullough, Kapler makes a familiar suggestion as they contemplate what to do next.

RODRIGUEZ: Housekeeper confirmed the picture. Purchasing flight for tonight. She leaves her shift at 4:30. I’d like to keep him at cbr until then.

KAPLER: Any thought to asking him if he’d like to apologize before we send him home?

RODRIGUEZ: We can definitely ask. She seemed a bit off and not wanting to talk about it too much.

MCCULLOUGH: Absolutely. Apologizing is the right thing to do.

MCCULLOUGH: At least the hotel manager.

In later emails that have been reported, Kapler said he was “embarrassed” by the situation, in reference to Luis Rodriguez actions. He also, again, sees the possibility to create a teaching moment.

KAPLER: Although this was an isolated incident, it was egregious enough to warrant a conversation with all of our men.

Please ensure that we use this as a teaching and sharpening opportunity for all.

Rodriguez was eventually released, later signing with another MLB team. They too would release Rodriguez after a short stint.

Major League Baseball’s official statement by league officials showed no concern for anything being reported on. “This was handled as an internal matter by the Dodgers and we consider the matter closed.”

The woman did not press charges. And that’s not surprising. Analysis by the Center for American Progress showed that of complaints filed with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission, more than a quarter were from employees in service industries. Women represent the majority of employees in those industries.  There were apparently concerns that the woman was an undocumented immigrant. Perhaps she was of the 24% of undocumented immigrants in this country who work in housekeeping or maid service. Based on conversations, she wasn’t especially willing to talk to a bunch of baseball guys about anything. Whatever her personal reasons, following through might’ve seemed too troublesome. She reported what happened to her supervisor, and that was as far as she went. In the end, she didn't want to talk about it. 

The player flew under the radar. The Dodgers never had to answer for any of it. No one did.

With every email and text, a group of men employed in baseball search for ways to handle incidents of sexual and physical assault. They wrangle with the details, and the proper protocol. They carefully consider each step. They wonder who needs to know, and when, and, once both situations are confronted, at least one person wondered if an apology, as a response to physical and sexual trauma, was appropriate. Each person in every exchange seems to have their own approach, their own moral code and imperative. Kapler, and to a larger degree, the Dodgers, seem to operate by their own philosophy. Kapler kept it about a “learning experience” for the players, but perhaps that was as much as he felt he could do. Once these matters were brought to the attention of the Dodgers, they had a responsibility to report everything to MLB, and, in turn, MLB had a responsibility to uphold an agreement; one that gave a measure of hope to baseball fans, who’d been frustrated and appalled by incidents of violence against women by players, who seemed to get nothing more than a “talking to.”

There were conversations, meetings, calls, concerns, attempts at one botched solution after another. A teenage girl was beaten, and later reported being sexually assaulted at a hotel party. A woman was sexually assaulted in her workplace. Dodgers players were the accused abusers. The Dodgers knew all of these things.

Why has no one ever had to answer for any of it?

The system is broken for sexual assault victims in general. 63% of sexual assaults go unreported to police, per The National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

MLB’s system in confronting violence against women is also broken. Their policy allows for statements such as “we’re handling it internally.” What does that mean? Major League Baseball could have demanded the Dodgers pony up the details. They could’ve insisted on knowing. They violated the terms of their own commitment, one they so proudly announced that August.

A multitude of questions remain unanswered. They’re not answered in Kapler’s thoughtful, but incomplete statement. And they certainly aren’t answered in any of the Dodgers comments on the matter. Worst of all, is MLB's duplicitous actions, willful ignorance, and total disregard for their own contract to do right by victims of violence.

When will Major League Baseball, and the Dodgers, answer for this?

 

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