The Possible Legal Consequences for Addison Russell

On Thursday night, Melisa Reidy-Russell, ex-wife of Cubs shortstop Addison Russell, for the first time went public with specifics about the abuse she says she suffered at the hands of her former husband. The blog post contains explicit descriptions of spousal abuse, infidelity, and domestic violence. As a result of the allegations, Russell was no longer with the team by Friday afternoon. He was later placed on administrative leave.

Major League Baseball has been investigating allegations that Russell was physically abusive to his now ex-wife since last year — allegations which Russell denied at the time. It should be noted that Melisa is not the person who made those allegations last year; in fact, at the time, she declined to speak further with MLB investigators. Nevertheless, this is the first detailed statement we have from either party regarding the matter. It’s worth noting that the parties’ divorce was finalized on August 30, 2018.

Longtime sports and law analyst Lester Munson was struck by the nature of Melissa’ account:

“I must say that her statement is among the more compelling and persuasive statements I have seen as I have reported on these events over the last 25 years…. Her language is so forceful. It has such detail that you really begin to think there’s no question that all of this happened.”

I won’t reproduce Melisa’s account here in full, but some of her allegations merit further discussion. Note that, among those I won’t be discussing, are Melissa’s charges of infidelity. While perhaps indicative of a troubled relationship, infidelity is also generally not illegal or abusive. Accordingly, I’ve omited any consideration of it from the following.

Instead, let’s focus on what abuse was specifically alleged and what the legal ramifications might be for Russell. We don’t know exactly where all of this took place, but we do know that Russell played for the Cubs, so it’s reasonable to assume that some or all of the episodes mentioned in Melissa’s account occurred in Illinois. The following quotes are excerpted from her blog post. Please note that some of what follows is unpleasant.

The first time I was physically mistreated by my spouse, I was in shock. I couldn’t wrap my head around what just happened…Why did he get so angry? What did I do for him to want to put his hands on me? Of course I forgave him & assumed it would never happen again.

Although this doesn’t specify exactly how Melisa was “physically mistreated,” there’s little doubt that what she’s alleging — that Russell “put his hands on” her in an abusive way — would qualify as a criminal act. In Illinois, under 720 ILCS 5/12-3, “[a] person commits battery if he or she knowingly without legal justification by any means… makes physical contact of an insulting or provoking nature with an individual.” Battery is considered the most serious kind of misdemeanor, one step below a felony.

Depending on the precise circumstances, it could also amount to more than that. Illinois has a domestic-violence statute which lays out exactly what constitutes abuse under state law. “Abuse” and “Domestic violence” are defined the same way: “physical abuse, harassment, intimidation of a dependent, interference with personal liberty or willful deprivation but does not include reasonable direction of a minor child by a parent or person in loco parentis.” Melisa says physical abuse occurred, but that’s not all she says Russell did to her.

Emotional/verbal abuse started way before I even realized, eventually it started to be an everyday thing. Being blamed for just about anything that went wrong, name calling, intimidating me with personal force, manipulating me to think I was the problem, destroying my personal things, threatening me to “send” me &; our son home to my parents as if I was privileged to be living in our home.

Under Illinois law, “intimidation” is a Class 3 felony, defined as “when, with intent to cause another to perform or to omit the performance of any act, [a person] communicates to another, directly or indirectly by any means, a threat to… Inflict physical harm on the person threatened or any other person or on property…” The sentence for intimidation is not less than two years in prison. In other words, this is not a minor crime. Melisa’s claims that Russell intimidated her “with personal force” and destroyed her “personal things” seems to fit the definition of the crime of intimidation. And the threats to “send” Melisa and her son away are arguably an interference with personal liberty within the meaning of the domestic-violence statute.

Finally, there’s this:

As time went on abusive behavior happened more often in arguments (more so when he was under the influence) & the verbal/emotional abuse grew to new levels… His close friends from our home town kept tabs on me and reported back to him about everything I did, I was still living and walking on eggshells everywhere I went.

Illinois law defines “stalking” as “knowingly engag[ing] in a course of conduct directed at a specific person, and he or she knows or should know that this course of conduct would cause a reasonable person to: (1) fear for his or her safety or the safety of a third person; or (2) suffer other emotional distress.” And, under 720 ILCS 5/12-7.3, “course of conduct” includes having third parties monitor a person:

“Course of conduct” means 2 or more acts, including but not limited to acts in which a defendant directly, indirectly, or through third parties, by any action, method, device, or means follows, monitors, observes, surveils, threatens, or communicates to or about, a person, engages in other non-consensual contact, or interferes with or damages a person’s property or pet.

Stalking, like intimidation, is a felony.

This is not to say that Russell actually committed any crimes or that he could or should be charged with any. I’m not the prosecutor, and I’m not privy to what the investigation has revealed. Furthermore, depending on the jurisdiction in which certain events occurred, the applicable law might be different, as well. That said, it’s important to note that Melisa Reidy-Russell is saying she was the victim of abuse which, if true, could well be considered very serious crimes.

Also important to note is that the severity of the allegations doesn’t necessarily mean a suspension or other discipline is forthcoming, as we saw with Miguel Sano. On the other hand, what we have here is perhaps more troubling than any situation we’ve seen before. Aroldis Chapman, Roberto Osuna, and Jose Reyes, for example, were suspended for isolated incidents of abusive behavior. Russell’s alleged actions suggest a pattern of abuse, over a long period, culminating in the very troubling possibility that he had people surveilling his wife. That’s harder to characterize as the result of a single instance of lost temper.

Sheryl Ring is a litigation attorney and General Counsel at Open Communities, a non-profit legal aid agency in the Chicago suburbs. You can reach her on twitter at @Ring_Sheryl. The opinions expressed here are solely the author's. This post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.

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5 years ago

What Russell is accused of doing is awful, but the definition and mandatory minimum sentence for intimidation is bonkers. That could include truly terrible things (like what Russell is accused of doing) but could also, just looking at the definition, include all sorts of minor wrongs.

5 years ago
Reply to  TKDC

Thing is, that’s most laws. You can slippery slope any law if you try hard enough. Most judges are working on the “I know it when I see it…” School of thought.

Also, IANAL, but my understanding is that intimidation and charges similar to it (assault, libel, etc) rarely get brought up by themselves but get thrown into a list of charges by prosecutors to paint a picture of patterned behavior. Like you’re never going to be charged with ONLY intimidation, you would also be charged with domestic assault or arson or battery or whatever. Intent needs to be proved, and that’s not easy to do “beyond a shadow of a doubt” without some serious shit happening.

5 years ago
Reply to  Moate

It’s not most laws I work with on a daily basis. Maybe it is most criminal laws, I don’t know. Mandatory minimums are bullshit, but especially so when they apply to a charge like this that, as you say, is likely an additional charge for someone who has done some bad shit, but that is not statutorily required to be so.

5 years ago
Reply to  TKDC

Welcome to America, standard MO is that everything you do is a crime so that if someone decides you’re a bad person, you can be charged with 100 things, your assets seized or frozen, and forced to plead to how ever many years in prison they want you to get. It’s inimical to a free society. (Of course if Russell did what she says, he would be guilty of serious crimes regardless, as is proper)

tramps like us
5 years ago
Reply to  CliffH

When you bring an agenda and a bias to a conversation, these are the types of comments you get

5 years ago
Reply to  TKDC

That’s why we have ‘rule of law’, and not ‘rule by law” and judges. They apply the weighting coefficients and applicability.