In this Sept. 7, 2014, file photo, San Francisco 49ers' Ray McDonald sits on the bench during the second half of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas.
The San Francisco 49ers announced Wednesday that defensive lineman Ray McDonald is to be released from the team following reports that he is a suspect in a sexual assault investigation.
49ers General Manager Trent Baalke said during a press conference that the team had decided to cut McDonald in light of "a pattern of poor decision-making."
San Jose Police told the San Francisco Chronicle that an unidentified woman who is not McDonald's fiancée reported from a local hospital late Tuesday that "she was possibly sexually assaulted" the day before. Investigators named McDonald as the alleged suspect.
McDonald was previously arrested on suspicion of domestic abuse in August when San Jose police responded to his home after a birthday party he threw for himself. Police found that his pregnant fiancée had "visible injuries."
Prosecutors later declined to file charges for the incident due to a lack of evidence.
The 49ers and the NFL had said they would hold off on any penalties until the criminal investigation had run its course. McDonald has started in every game since his Aug. 31 arrest.
Many observers criticized the 49ers for continuing to let McDonald play — as opposed to cutting him, or even keeping him out of games but continuing to pay his salary — after his Aug. 31 arrest. At that time, the 49ers had high hopes of making a fourth consecutive NFC Championship game and potentially capturing their first Super Bowl under coach Jim Harbaugh.
Their season has since disintegrated, though, and the team was eliminated from playoff contention with a 17-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. Three days later, news of the latest accusation against McDonald broke and the team swiftly announced cutting him from the roster. NFL contracts are not guaranteed.
"We certainly believe in due process and we’ve demonstrated that over time," Baalke said during the press conference. "But when it becomes a pattern of poor decision-making, which it has in this case, it becomes a time when it leaves you with no other decision to be made than the one we made today."
#49ers GM Trent Baalke announces that team has decided to release DT Ray McDonald from his contract.
#49ers GM Trent Baalke on releasing Ray McDonald: "This is a team decision, not a league decision."
McDonald's legal troubles come on the heels of a number of high profile incidents of domestic violence and child abuse committed by NFL players that have led to more public scrutiny of the way the league handles such cases.
Last week, the league released a new personal conduct policy for players that takes disciplinary power out of the hands of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Instead, disciplinary decisions will be made by a league-appointed "special counsel." If McDonald is arrested as a result of the investigation, he could become one of the first players to be subjected to the new policy.
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