SAN JOSE — Two months after his arrest in Los Gatos, Santa Clara County prosecutors have filed multiple felony charges against San Francisco 49ers star linebacker Reuben Foster, contending that he “dragged” his live-in girlfriend “by her hair, physically threw her out of the house, and punched her in the head 8 to 10 times.”
Foster, 24, was charged with felony domestic violence in the alleged Feb. 11 attack that investigators say left her with a ruptured eardrum, according to a news release from the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office.
He also faces a related felony charge of forcefully attempting to prevent a victim from reporting a crime, as well as felony possession of an assault weapon and misdemeanor possession of a high-capacity magazine after a Sig Sauer 516 short-barreled rifle was confiscated from his home during the initial police response.
“Our focus is on holding accountable those who hurt their intimate partners,” Deputy District Attorney Kevin Smith said in a statement. “Our office handles between four and five thousand domestic violence cases each year. We only hope that this case illuminates the tragic regularity of the rest.”
If convicted on all charges, Foster faces a maximum sentence of more than 11 years in prison, prosecutors said. He is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday afternoon, and has been free on $75,000 bail since his arrest.
After the charges were announced, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told this news organization, “We continue to monitor all developments in this matter which is under review of the personal conduct policy.”
Neither Foster’s attorney nor the 49ers immediately responded to a request for comment Thursday morning. During last month’s NFL owners meeting in Florida, 49ers CEO Jed York couched his support of Foster.
“We’d love Reuben to be on this team, and we’d love him to participate for us,” York told NBC Sports Bay Area. “But if he’s not doing things off the field that allow us to be able to rely on him – or he’s doing something that we’re not comfortable with off the field and it’s proven that’s what’s going on — I think the guys have said then you’re just going to have to move on.”
Los Gatos-Monte Sereno police said officers were dispatched around 9:15 a.m. that day to a home on Shannon Road for a welfare check and to respond to a possible disturbance. Prosecutors added that the reported that the woman, who has been in a relationship with Foster for several years, flagged down a stranger’s car to get help calling 911.
Foster was eventually arrested without incident, and the rifle and magazine at the heart of the weapons charges were seized.
Sources familiar with the investigation told this news organization that the reported victim and Foster were arguing and that he threw her belongings onto a front walkway and balcony. At some point, she said he physically dragged her in an apparent attempt to remove her from the home. She also told police dispatchers during the 911 call that he owned multiple semiautomatic rifles, though only one was recovered.
Outside of being released from the 49ers, any other discipline of Foster would have to come through the NFL office under its personal-conduct policy. The league has launched several public campaigns against domestic violence and fortified its personal-conduct policy after former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was suspended for two games for a 2014 assault on his then-fiancée, then was suspended indefinitely after security footage surfaced depicting the brutal attack.
That same year, Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy was convicted of assaulting his ex-girlfriend, and given a 10-game suspension from the NFL that was later reduced to four games by an arbitrator after Hardy appealed. He later played with the Dallas Cowboys.
In 2014, after the Rice case, the NFL granted Commissioner Roger Goodell authority to give players a baseline six-game suspension for domestic violence allegations, even without a conviction, with the discretion to decrease or lengthen based on the circumstances of a case. That was exercised with Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott this past season.
Last offseason, the 49ers drafted Foster with the 31st overall pick in the first round, with his stock having slid amid concerns about his surgically repaired shoulder and perhaps his off-the-field issues.
Foster’s rookie season covered multiple highs and lows. An ankle sprain in the season opener kept him out five games, and a rib injury kept him out another. Off the field, he and then-teammate Ray-Ray Armstrong reportedly avoided an armed robbery at a San Francisco nightclub in October. Foster’s dominant play on the field earned him NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month honors for November, and his 72 tackles, in just nine games, ranked second on the 49ers behind cornerback Dontae Johnson’s 76.
The 49ers have led the league in player arrests since 2012 with 15, but Foster is only the second player arrested since coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch assumed their roles last year.
Last April, the 49ers released Tramaine Brock hours after he was arrested for alleged domestic violence. Four months later, prosecutors declined to file charges, Brock avoided an NFL-imposed suspension, and he resumed his career with the Minnesota Vikings.
That prompt exit from the 49ers was similar to fullback Bruce Miller getting released hours after his September 2016 arrest for an alleged assault in San Francisco.
However, when Miller was charged in May 2015 with misdemeanor vandalism following a domestic incident, the 49ers took a wait-and-see approach and stated they would “monitor these legal proceedings closely.” Miller eventually pleaded no contest in August 2015 to a misdemeanor disturbing-the-peace charge and was ordered to attend domestic-violence counseling.
In an unrelated case, Foster was charged in Alabama for a second-degree marijuana possession charge in Tuscaloosa — home of his alma mater, the University of Alabama.
The weapons allegation against Foster evoked memories of the 49ers’ experience with former star linebacker Aldon Smith, who was given probation after being convicted of possessing three illegal assault rifles after gunfire erupted at his home in the San Jose hills in 2012. Smith has recently made headlines for multiple arrests stemming from domestic-violence allegations in San Francisco and violating protective orders in the case.
The legality of possessing the SIG Sauer 516 short-barreled rifle will likely be debated between them and Foster’s legal defense.
The 516 does not appear on the list of illegal AR-15 variants at the California Department of Justice website, perhaps because it’s a recent release — the list hasn’t been updated in more than a decade; the 516 has been produced since 2010. State law also includes generic characteristics that make a gun illegal, such as whether it has the capacity to accept a detachable ammunition magazine, and at least one of a list of military-style characteristics like “a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon” and a flash suppressor.
Check back later for updates to this story.