City Council Approves External Durham Police Probe
Posted June 1, 2007
Durham, N.C. — Durham's City Council on Friday approved the mayor's proposal for a 12-member panel to conduct an independent review into the police department's handling of the Duke lacrosse investigation.
The panel, to be headed by former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Willis Whichard, will consist of a diverse group of individuals: four law enforcement officers, citizens, defense attorneys, a prosecutor and a representative of a local rape crisis center.
Retired Chapel Hill police Chief Gregg Jarvies, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Chief Darrel Stephens, Winston-Salem Chief Patricia Norris and High Point Chief Jim Fealy were named to be a part of the panel Friday.
Council members have until next week to submit recommendations to complete the panel.
“By June 8, the committee should be complete, and we’re hoping to make the committee as diverse and as broadly diverse as humanly possible," Councilman Howard Clement.said.
Mayor Bill Bell said he wants the panel to begin its work by June 18 and hopes it can conduct the review within 30 to 60 days.
"We don't want to rush to judgment on this," Bell said. "We want to afford the committee adequate time to do the work to get the truth out."
Bell and at least three other council members started calling for the review almost immediately after the police department's internal report, which was publicly released on May 11.
Bell said that report lacked focus and left questions unanswered about the yearlong criminal investigation of rape and sexual assault charges against David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann.
Police chief Steve Chalmers has said he supports the review, but has also defended his department's handling of the case.
Council members voted 6-1 last week in favor of the review last week and met Friday to discuss details of the review, including its scope, its cost and whether the panel will have power to subpoena witnesses and have them testify under oath.
"I think it's important for us to be able to get to the truth," Councilman Mike Woodard said. "And if subpoenas and putting people under oath helps us get to that, then I think it's something we need to give this committee the power to do."
Specifically, Council members want to know if investigators followed police procedures or if they were following orders from District Attorney Mike Nifong, who himself, faces ethics charges related to the lacrosse case.
"One basic question is why did three Durham residents have to go to Raleigh and to the Attorney General's office to get justice?" Councilman Eugene Brown wrote in a four-page letter that poses questions about the case to the panel.
"It's really an embarrassment that we're going through this and that we have to do this process," Brown said. "It's painful, but the truth is sometimes painful, and it needs to come out."