⏩ Ann Killion: Ex-girlfriend’s testimony is a setback for domestic violence victims.
The ramifications of the Reuben Foster case go far beyond this ugly, sordid incident.
On Thursday, in dramatic testimony, Foster’s former girlfriend Elissa Ennis said that she made everything up on Feb. 11, when she called 911 and told police and hospital workers that Foster had beaten her up in his Los Gatos home. She painted herself as a pathological liar who had tried to bring
false domestic violence charges against a different boyfriend in 2011.
Was she lying in February? Or is she lying now?
If Ennis is lying now, Foster should be punished. If she was lying then — as she claims — Ennis should be severely punished. Jail time would be appropriate. It is hard to overstate the damage Ennis has done if her testimony is true. What Ennis claims to have done affects every victim, every survivor of domestic violence. Her name will become a rebuttal — an argument to all the victims who have the courage to report abuse, or confront their abusers. They will be in danger of being called “Elissa Ennis.” She will become a vessel of doubt poured over every case, especially those involving rich, famous men.
Elissa Ennises are not common. Few people make false reports. But all it takes is one to convince many real victims that they won’t be believed.
Ennis’ lawyer advised her not to take the stand, or to take the fifth, probably because Ennis could be punished for filing a false report. The Santa Clara County judge said she will review all the evidence
and make a ruling next week.
What we know for sure is that we don’t know exactly what happened on that day in February. On the stand, Ennis said she came back to live with Foster, and even went on a vacation to Disney World with him, after trying to ruin his life. Why would two people so toxic to each other, who had been ordered to stay away from each other, do that?
If Foster is innocent, I apologize for suggesting the 49ers should have released him. I was basing my beliefs on the standing of the Santa Clara County district attorney, one who has a reputation for restraint and has been cautious in the past about pursuing charges unless there was clear evidence. That reputation could be severely damaged now.
I’ve also seen this process play out in professional sports, over and over again. Victims — for whatever reason — choose not to press charges or recant or vanish when it’s time to testify.
In addition, the 49ers have fully earned my skepticism over the years. The organization has a history of looking the other way when one of its talented players gets into criminal trouble. The team’s muted response in the days following Foster’s arrest, and again when charges were filed, still seems strange. No single voice stood up to be held accountable, even though the team had an enormous public relations crisis on its hands. It was a crisis similar to those that damaged the organization in the past.
Niners general manager John Lynch finally addressed the issue at length in a pre-draft meeting. But he refused to make it clear whether the team had a policy on domestic violence. He continued to say the team would deal with cases on an individual basis. But that is more process than policy.
It took until April 26, after the draft, for a clear-cut team policy to be articulated. That was when 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said, “We can promise you guys if there’s someone who ever hits their significant other, their girlfriend, something like that, that person’s not going to be on our team. I feel strongly about that. I know John does. I know our ownership does.”
That was the policy I’d been waiting to hear. It’s one that hadn’t previously been stated in specific terms. That development may be the one silver lining is this ugly situation.
The 49ers may still be without the services of Foster, no matter what ultimately comes out of this case. The NFL will not look kindly on the marijuana arrest shortly before the South Bay incident — since Foster already had a violation stemming from the 2017 draft combine — or the weapons charge he picked up that day in February. He may face a suspension of some sort. He has a pattern of making bad decisions, and though the 49ers may be celebrating the legal developments in his case, they shouldn’t feel confident his troubles are behind him.
But again, the impact of this testimony goes far beyond the details of Foster’s case. Far beyond Ennis, as an individual. The ramifications will be felt by victims everywhere.
Which is a very sad situation.