Last Friday, sitting in a regal stuffed chair between the grand piano and the fireplace in the living room of his parents' home in Locust, N.J., spurned defensive tackle Christian Peter spoke calmly and thoughtfully—and called the New England Patriots a pack of liars. This was five days after the Patriots had made him a fifth-round pick in the NFL draft and two days after they had dumped him because, New England owner Bob Kraft says, the club belatedly determined that Peter's criminal behavior at Nebraska was more extensive than the Pats had thought when they selected him.
But Peter says New England had more than enough information—he says he discussed every charge on his arrest sheet with five or six of the team's coaches and scouts at the NFL combine in February—to make a draft-day decision. "To say I wasn't investigated thoroughly by the Patriots is a total lie," said Peter, who was convicted of four charges, ranging from public urination to third-degree sexual assault, in separate incidents while at Nebraska. "I know the truth. The Patriots know the truth. It's obvious they're covering it up. I've been more scrutinized than the President of the United States. Whoever did this is a coward."
Indeed, the ensuing cause c�l�bre has raised questions about the competence of the 10-member New England scouting and player-personnel staff, the willingness of teams to draft a player with a sordid background and the content of confidential files by NFL Security on prospective draftees.
The 6'3", 304-pound Peter was a starter for two-time defending national champion Nebraska, during which time he had 121 tackles and nine sacks. Despite Peter's off-field troubles, one NFL team's personnel director said last Friday, after the Patriots waived Peter, "We had him as a draftable player. He was our sixth-rated defensive tackle. Whether we take him now, I don't know."
SI has learned that before Peter was released, the Kansas City Chiefs offered New England a 1997 seventh-round draft pick for his rights. Kraft declined the offer, saying he didn't want his team to profit from its mistake. Now NFL teams have until this Monday to put in a claim for Peter, who will go to the team with the highest position in the 1996 draft order that claims him.
Here's the rap sheet that would accompany a waiver claim: Between September 1991 and last March, Peter was arrested eight times. The charges on the first four occasions—trespassing, disturbing the peace, failing to appear in court and failing to comply with the order of a police officer—were dismissed. But in December '92 he was arrested for public urination, and the following May he was charged with possession of alcohol by a minor; he was found guilty both times and fined $100 for each offense. Also in May 1993, Peter was charged with third-degree sexual assault for twice groping a former Miss Nebraska, Natalie Kuijvenhoven, in a bar; he pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 18 months' probation but now says he took the fall for a teammate he will not name. In March of this year he was arrested on an assault charge for allegedly grabbing Janelle Mues by the throat in a bar; Peter pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of disturbing the peace and will be sentenced on May 21. He says he only verbally abused Mues after she refused to sit in the same booth and called him " Christian Peter, the rapist." Mues was apparently referring to accusations made in a pending civil suit in which former Nebraska student Kathy Redmond claims Peter raped her on two occasions in 1991. (Redmond never pressed charges and waited four years to file the suit.) Peter says the sex was consensual.
How could the Patriots have not known about Peter's public, and in some cases well-publicized, record? Or did they initially downplay it because of his potential on-field value? "Either they [ Patriots scouting personnel] lied to me when we picked him or we didn't do a very good job in the investigation process," said Kraft, who had not heard of Peter before the draft.
On the second day of the draft, April 21, Kraft looked at the Patriots' board and noticed that Peter, despite a relatively high rating from New England scouts, was still available. It was no secret the Patriots were looking for help along the defensive front seven, and a few defensive tackles whom New England had rated far below Peter had already been selected when its fifth-round pick, No. 149, came up. The club color-codes its board, identifying, for example, problematic players, but Kraft says Peter's name carried no such designation. That's the most damaging part of the story for the Patriots' director of player personnel, Bobby Grier, and the team's director of college scouting, Charles Armey, neither of whom was available to the media last week.
Kraft says he asked scouts in the draft room why Peter had not been picked and was told, 'He's had some problems, but we met with him and we feel good about him.' " There was a discussion among Kraft, Grier, Armey and coach Bill Parcells before Grier selected Peter. "It was an organizational pick," said Parcells, who before the draft talked with Nebraska coach Tom Osborne about Peter.
Imagine Peter's delight when he picked up the phone on April 21 and heard Parcells on the other end of the line. Peter was a budding football prospect in northern New Jersey when the New York Giants won their two Super Bowls. Parcells had coached those two teams, and Peter was a big fan.