(Reuters) - An independent investigation has found no evidence that anyone at the National Football League possessed or saw the surveillance video of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice hitting his fiancee last year.
The probe, led by former FBI director Robert Mueller, concluded that the league should have done a better job investigating the incident, which sparked public backlash against the popular U.S. professional sport.
The four-month probe faulted the NFL's deference to law enforcement in Rice's case, which "led to deficiencies in the league's collection and analysis of information during its investigation," according to a statement released on Thursday.
The report also found no evidence that a league employee had acknowledged receipt of the video as had been reported.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell initially suspended Rice for two games for punching his then-fiancee Janay Palmer, who fell unconscious in an elevator during an argument at an Atlantic City, New Jersey, casino in February last year.
Goodell reversed course and suspended Rice indefinitely in September, when surveillance video was released by a website showing the incident. The league had said it never saw the video and would have acted differently if it did.
Rice, one of the league's top running backs, was also released from his $35 million contract with the Ravens.
Coupled with a spate of domestic abuse arrests among players at the time, sponsors sought to distance themselves from the NFL as public criticism intensified.
The incident and public storm led the NFL to say it was toughening its stance on domestic violence and personal conduct among its players and employees.
Rice, who is now married to Palmer, won an appeal of his suspension in November and is a free agent.
(Reporting by Eric Kelsey in Los Angeles; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)