Amid a litany of sexual misconduct and harassment allegations against various members of the Washington Commanders, it emerged in Dec. 2020 that team owner Dan Snyder paid $1.6 million to settle a sexual misconduct claim against him in 2009.
Now, 13 years since the accusation and a year and a half since the report, The Washington Post has published details of the allegations against Snyder from a letter by the Commanders' legal team to his accuser's attorney.
The letter — written by Howard Shapiro, an attorney hired by the team, and based on an investigation run by David Donovan, the team's general counsel — reportedly claimed the team had conclusively determined the woman in question had fabricated the alleged assault, though experts consulted by the Post questioned whether the evidence backed up that claim.
The specifics of the sexual assault claim, via the Post:
According to the letter, the woman alleged that Snyder asked her to sit with him in a private area at the back of the plane, away from the other passengers. At one point during the flight, she alleged, Snyder asked her for sex, groped her and attempted to pull off her clothing before she stopped the assault and pushed him away.
Snyder and the woman were joined on the plane by six other passengers, two pilots and two flight attendants, according to the letter, which does not identify any of the other people on board. The group had attended the previous night’s Academy of Country Music Awards, a show put on by Dick Clark Productions, which Snyder owned at the time.
In questioning the woman's account, Shapiro reportedly points to passengers who didn't notice signs of an assault or distress, revealing clothes worn by the accuser, shifting accounts of the incident from the accuser and evidence of the accuser's financial distress.
Experts question claims from Dan Snyder's attorneys
The experts the Post consulted reportedly said they could understand a finding that the woman's claim was unsubstantiated due to a lack of witnesses and any supporting evidence provided in the letter, but considered it "a leap" to definitively state she was lying.
One also took issue with attempts to use allegations about the woman's personal life to undermine her claims:
“This is exactly the type of stuff we’ve worked hard since the 1970s to abolish from how sex crimes are investigated,” said Joanne Archambault, a retired sergeant with the San Diego Police Department who oversaw sex crimes investigations and the founder of End Violence Against Women International.
While the letter reportedly demanded a declaration that no assault occurred and would suggested Snyder would attempt to seek financial damages and legal fees from the accuser, the settlement between both sides would result in no declaration and a $1.6 million payment to the woman.
Settlement became an issue during Commanders investigation
The attached agreement for the woman to not speak publicly about her allegations apparently became a matter of contention years later when investigator Beth Wilkinson attempted to interview her as part of her probe into the Commanders' misconduct allegations.
Washington attorneys reportedly argued the team's release of all former employees from nondisclosure agreements did not apply to the woman, while Donovan reportedly went as far as suing Wilkinson in federal court to prohibit her from discussing the 2009 settlement after the NFL took over the investigation. The lawsuit was soon dropped and Wilkinson eventually interviewed the woman.
Wilkinson's conclusions about the 2009 allegations are not known because no public report was released with her findings. Snyder has since been accused by another former employee, Tiffani Johnston, of sexual misconduct, leading to another NFL investigation, this time by former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White.
Snyder most recently declined, twice, to discuss allegations against him and his team before Congress.