The Portland Timbers have been fined $25,000 by Major League Soccer for not immediately reporting last May's domestic violence allegations against Andy Polo to the league.
MLS on Tuesday, March 29, released the report of its investigation. The investigation — conducted by Proskauer Rose LLP — determined that the Timbers did not attempt to cover up the incident. The investigators also concluded that the club did not attempt to pressure Polo's former partner, Génessis Alarcón, to not press charges against Polo.
The $25,000 fine is for failing to report to the league the alleged domestic violence incident, which occurred on May 23, 2021, at the couple's Beaverton home. The investigation concluded that the Timbers and the club's legal counsel did not understand that the MLS constitution requires such incidents to be reported.
MLS released the full report. A statement from the league about the decision to fine the Timbers stated:
"Although the investigation found no evidence that the Timbers organization influenced Ms. Alarcon's decision to press charges and that they did not attempt to conceal the incident, prompt reporting is critical to League oversight, addressing potential misconduct, and ensuring that players and their families are referred to appropriate resources, including potentially the League's Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program."
Alarcón did not pursue criminal charges as a result of the incident. Polo was issued a citation for misdemeanor harassment but the case was not pursued by the Washington County District Attorney's office.
The Timbers on Tuesday, March 29, issued the following statement responding to the results of the investigation:
"The Portland Timbers acknowledge and accept the findings of the independent review Major League Soccer commissioned into the handling of the Andy Polo incident of May 2021.
"For the past several months, the club has put in diligent work to enact a set of programs designed to improve our accountability, equity and engagement. The full set of action items will be unveiled in the coming days.
"We strive to be a club this city and our supporters can be proud of. We have more than a decade of outstanding work in the community and off the pitch of which we are extremely proud. However, we are not perfect and will make mistakes occasionally. When that happens, corrections will be made, and we will learn from them."
The report states that the investigation included interviews with five Timbers' employees, including CEO Merritt Paulson. Also interviewed were the attorney the Timbers retained for Polo, Polo himself and Alarcón. Investigators also listened to nine audio recordings provided by Alarcón, along with text messages and emails provided by the Timbers.
Based upon the audio recording of discussions involving Alarcón and Timbers head of security Jim McCausland on the evening of the May 23, 2021, incident and the audio recording of a June 3, 2021, meeting that included Alarcón, McCausland and the attorney representing Polo, investigators found that the club made no attempt to pressure Alarcón into not pressing charges against Polo.
Specifically, the report states that the Timbers had provided many types of assistance to Alarcón long before the alleged incident occurred. The recordings corroborate that McCausland and Gabriel Jaimes, the club's player affairs and professional development manager, were present the night of the incident to ensure the safety of Alarcón and the couple's children.
The report also states that the June 3 meeting at Alarcón's home was to discuss ways in which the club could assist her and how she could become less dependent upon Polo. It states that the recording confirms the club's statement that the Timbers did not make assistance from the club contingent upon Alarcón not pressing charges.
Pointedly, the report states that a recent clip of the recording from the June 3 meeting made public by a lawyer for Alarcón takes out of context the purpose of the 55-minute meeting.
In a recent interview with ESPN.com, Alarcón said she understood that the Timbers' assistance for herself and her children would be in exchange for not pressing charges.
The league's investigation found no evidence of such a quid pro quo.
This report, which states that the investigation can be reopened if new information comes to light, does not completely put to rest the Timbers involvement in the incident.
Peregrine Sports LLC, parent company of the Timbers, is listed along with Polo as a defendant in a domestic violence lawsuit filed by Alarcón.
The Timbers announced on Feb. 10 they were terminating Polo's contract without cause. ESPN recently quoted an official with Universitario Deportes as saying Polo was paid in full by the Timbers and MLS in exchange for agreeing not to sue the league, after the MLS Players Association reportedly filed a grievance on Polo's behalf.
Polo last week signed with Peruvian club Universitario, his original professional club, with the condition that he had 15 days to resolve his legal issues with Alarcon.
Pattern of behavior
The Polo incident raised further questions into how seriously the club takes allegations of domestic abuse and of coercion. Still pending are investigations by U.S. Soccer and by the National Women's Soccer League into the sexual coercion of players by former Thorns coach Paul Riley. A central question in that situation is how Riley was able to still coach in the NWSL after the Thorns parted ways with him (and did not reference his behavior as a factor in his departure).
Last month, Thorns players released a statement on social media announcing that the club's investigation into its handling of the Riley accusations was complete.
The club has not released its internal report into its handling of the Riley accusations.
According to the Thorns' players statement, at the request of the NWSL and its players union, current and past Thorns players were not interviewed for the club's investigation. When they are allowed to do so, Thorns players will have the option of being interviewed and the club's investigation can be reopened.
The players' statement included the news that the club has adopted a confidential and anonymous reporting system and that all managers will be required to annually take anti-harassment training.
That statement from the Thorns players concluded by thanking Paulson for taking seriously their concerns and by asking Thorns fans to "please be respectful to all club employees, their friends and families. We understand that it is highly charged and deeply personal for everyone, but let's all do our best not to make a difficult situation more painful. Finally, thank you for your support. You're more essential than ever."
The Timbers/Thorns situation has been compared by some national observers to the case of former Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen, who sold that franchise after allegations surfaced in 2020 Hansen used racist language toward players and that a toxic work environment existed within the club.
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