In May 2010, Broward dispatchers received a call from a terrified woman cowering in a bathroom. She was pregnant, she said, and her much larger fiancé had just hit her in the face. "Please help," the woman begged.
Police showed up and arrested her alleged abuser. But because the woman's fiancé was none other than Miami Dolphins defensive end Phillip Merling, the case soon went well outside the normal track for a domestic violence incident.
In fact, according to a New York Times investigation, the team pressured police to treat Merling leniently. Neither the NFL nor the Dolphins did anything to punish the hulking lineman. And Merling's ex tells the Times that the harassment only got worse and has lasted all the way through this year.
The Times report is another black eye for a league still reeling from the Ray Rice domestic violence fiasco and paints a dark picture of the Fins' cozy relationship with local police forces.
Merling was arrested around 1:30 a.m. May 27, 2010, when deputies responded to the call from his fiancée, Kristen Lemon, and found her with a bloody lip and swollen face.
But according to the Times, that's when the NFL's powerful player-protection machine kicked in. The Fins security director, Stuart Weinstein, immediately phoned contacts at the Broward Sheriff's Office and ensured that Merling would be escorted out of jail through a back exit.
In fact, BSO did Merling one better. A deputy took him back to his house to gather his belongings even though he was sitting on a fresh order to stay away from Lemon and the house.
That special treatment later sparked an internal affairs investigation. Broward's former sheriff, Al Lamberti, tells the Times that the probe found cops far too cozy with the Fins, which paid many of them to work off-duty assignments at Sun Life Stadium.
"In some of these cases, my opinion is that they were more loyal to the Dolphins than they were to the agency," he tells the paper. "To me, that's where the line was crossed."
Lamberti later demoted one deputy and temporarily banned his officers from working off-duty at the stadium.
Even more damning for the league, throughout the ordeal Merling faced essentially zero discipline from the NFL or the Dolphins. He was back on the roster soon after leaving jail and continued playing in the NFL for four more years.
As for Lemon, she packed her bags after the assault and fled to friends and family in South Carolina. Charges were dropped against Merling when she didn't appear to testify, but she tells the Times she was eight months pregnant and had no way to get back to Florida.
Merling has never stopped harassing her, she tells the Times. He's been charged with failing to pay child support and continues to send her threatening messages. He even tried to break down her front door recently.