Earlier this morning my friend and colleague Howard Bryant was exonerated of criminal charges stemming from an incident in late February in Buckland, Massachusetts that resulted in his arrest and being charged with domestic assault and battery, assault and battery on a police officer and resisting arrest. To be absolutely clear, the statement released earlier today and signed by both Bryant’s attorney and Jeremy C. Bucci, Chief Trial Counsel of the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office in Greenfield, Massachusetts, reads in part:
“A careful review of all of the statements of percipient witnesses that have been collected do not support allegations that Mr. Bryant struck, choked, pinned against a car or committed any other act of violence against Mrs. Bryant. [emphasis mine] ”
In other words, the prosecutor’s office admits that there is no evidence that Bryant committed a crime, a level of vindication far stronger than a trial finding of “not guilty.” Similarly, neither is the district attorney prosecuting Bryant for either assault and battery on a police officer or resisting arrest. While the negotiated statement contains the usual pap that allows the district attorney’s office to save face politically, Bryant’s vindication is complete and undeniable. He has not “plea bargained” his way to a lesser charge; he is innocent.
This result – justice in a legal sense – is not a surprise to me. Howard Bryant is my friend. We often speak and he called shortly after his arrest, explaining what happened and proclaiming his complete and total innocence, something I never questioned. Yes, Howard and his wife had a dispute, one that unfortunately took place in public and one which they both regret, but one that involved neither violence nor the threat of violence. That is no crime. If such public disputes were criminal then we are all guilty.
I congratulate both Howard and his wife and now ask a question of all those who concluded that, simply because he was charged, that he was guilty or that “He must have done something.” As of earlier this morning, before the disposition of his case was made public, there were no less than 167,000 references to “Howard Bryant” “ESPN” and “assault” on Google – 55,000 from “News” sources alone. This does not include the thousands of reader comments that attacked Bryant’s character that were posted on news stories that reported on the incident in sources such as the Boston Herald, Boston Globe, Masslive.com, ESPN.com and others, or the hours of despicable, vitriol leveled at Bryant from certain Massachusetts-based sports broadcast outlets that were disseminated nationwide through the Internet and cable and satellite television. In combination, this has caused harm to his personal reputation that might well be irreparable.
“How does one regain his or her reputation?” is a question that has no easy answer. ESPN deserves some credit for not only standing behind Bryant from the start and rapidly disseminating today’s legal proceedings through ESPN.com, but that is just the beginning. For all those who publicly jumped to a conclusion of guilt, and, just as significantly, for those who by their silence left the same unmistakable impression, their complicity in that question remains. Whether they choose now to respond with continued cowardice or a measure of public courage and shame will prove telling.
Justice requires a response.