October 5, 2007, North Country Gazette, NY
DURHAM, NC—Calling the rape case against three former Duke lacrosse players as “one of the most chilling episodes of premeditated, police, prosecutorial and scientific misconduct in modern American history”, the athletes’ attorneys filed a federal lawsuit Friday against convicted and disbarred prosecutor Mike Nifong, the city of Durham and the police detectives who conducted the investigation.
Despite an iron-clad alibi from at least one of the players and a DNA test which showed no genetic material from any of the three men could be linked to the African-American stripper who said the players had raped her at a March 2006 team party, Nifong had refused to drop the charges. The DNA testing showed material on the stripper from several other men not charged. Nifong waited months to tell the defense about this—while all the while insisting publicly the three athletes were guilty.
Colin Finnerty, David Evans and Reade Seligmann are seeking unspecified punitive and compensatory damages in their lawsuit, attorneys’ fees and seeks reforms in the criminal investigatory procedures of the Durham Police Department.
In early September as Nifong reported to jail for his one day sentence after being found guilty of contempt for withholding evidence, the athletes’ attorneys unsuccessfully met with Durham city officials in an attempt to reach a settlement in the case.
It had been reported that the attorneys for the three athletes were seeking $30 million–$10 million for each to be paid over five years—as well as legal reforms.
Seligman’s attorney, Richard D. Emery, said “This is not about money for the boys, though obviously they deserve compensation. This is about sending a message to public officials who only get the message when they have to pay the money.”
In August, Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith III found that Nifong had willfully made false statements to the court last September in the rape case when he said he had given defense attorneys all the results from DNA testing. The DNA evidence withheld by Nifong from defense attorneys would have immediately exonerated the three Duke athletes.
Nifong has been disbarred and forced to resign from office.
In July, for the first time Nifong had admitted that there was “no credible evidence” that the three Duke lacrosse players had committed any of the crimes he had accused them of in relation to the alleged rape.
The North Carolina Bar found the veteran prosecutor had made misleading and inflammatory comments about the athletes under suspicion, withholding potentially exculpatory DNA evidence from the defense, and lying both to the court and bar investigators. Nifong was forced to drop the rape charges last December when the woman changed her story but he unwisely forged ahead with charges of sexual assault and kidnapping.
It was only after the Bar accused Nifong of violating the rules of professional conduct that he finally turned the case over to state prosecutors who dropped all charges in April, who said that the three players were “innocent” victims of a rogue prosecutor’s “tragic rush to accuse.
Following a trial in June, the bar association unanimously found that Nifong had engaged in “dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation”. He was disbarred for his prosecutorial misconduct emanating from the malicious prosecution.