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Attorney: Lacrosse Lawsuit Aims to Find Full Truth

Posted February 21, 2008

— A lawsuit filed Thursday by 38 lacrosse players seeks "full truth and accountability" from the institutions and people that the players say caused and prolonged the lacrosse team's ordeal during a 13-month investigation into rape allegations.

The list includes Duke University, the City of Durham, police investigators and a nurse who examined the woman who charged that three members of the 2006 Duke team had raped and sexually assaulted her at a party in March 2006.

"The players and their families are united in their determination to insist on the full truth and accountability from Duke and the City of Durham," Charles Cooper, the lead attorney handling the case, said Thursday while announcing the lawsuit at a news conference in Washington, D.C.

"The pain and suffering they experienced cannot be erased. The misconduct of the university and town officials cannot be undone," Cooper said. "But this suit will enable them to learn the full truth, to put the facts in plain view in a court of law."

The suit asks unspecified damages for emotional distress and other injuries in connection with the investigation that made national headlines and eventually led to the disbarment of former District Attorney Mike Nifong after it collapsed.

The lawsuit accuses Duke of ignoring, suppressing and discrediting evidence that proved the players innocent and of standing by while the players suffered abuse and harassment on campus. It says the school imposed discipline that implied the team was guilty when it suspended and then canceled the highly ranked team's 2006 season.

Cooper said Duke turned its back on the players to protect the university's image.

"This lawsuit is born out of Duke and Durham's sustained wrongdoing and callous conduct against the players," Cooper said.

"Duke, rather than providing that needed support, coldly turned away and abandoned these young men and their families," said Steve Henkelman, of Swarthmore, Pa., a named plaintiff whose son, Erik, was a senior on the 2006 team.

Duke President Richard Brodhead conceded after charges had been dismissed that Duke students and faculty “were quick to speak as if the charges were true.”

Pamela Bernard, Duke's vice president and general counsel, said Thursday that the families had declined a university offer to cover the cost of any attorneys' fees or other out-of-pocket expenses.

"If these plaintiffs have a complaint, it is with Mr. Nifong. Their legal strategy – attacking Duke – is misdirected and without merit," she said in a statement.

"We will vigorously defend the university against these claims," Bernard continued.

The suit also said Nifong and his investigators hid and fabricated evidence, and the City of Durham should be held accountable for Nifong's actions.

But Cooper said the lawsuit does not name Nifong – although drafts of it did – because of his pending declaration of bankruptcy. Nifong is claiming more than $180 million in liabilities, almost all tied to the prospect of losing two other lawsuits stemming from the rape case.

"If it comes to pass that he will no longer be protected by federal bankruptcy, he will be named in the lawsuit," Cooper said.

Durham interim City Attorney Karen Sindelar did not immediately return a phone call from the Associated Press seeking comment Thursday.

With Thursday's filing, all but three members of the 2006 lacrosse team are plaintiffs in a lawsuit.

The three players who Nifong charged – and who were later declared innocent – have also sued the former prosecutor, Durham and the police detectives who handled the case. They reached an undisclosed financial settlement with the university in June.

Three other players filed a suit last year, accusing the school, Nifong and numerous others of a conspiracy that inflicted emotional distress.

None of the lawsuits named Crystal Mangum, the woman who said she was raped.

Cooper said his clients chose not to name the accuser as a defendant because of her mental health and history of drug use.

When state prosecutors dropped the case last year, declaring the players innocent and Mangum's allegations false, they said the woman "may actually believe the many different stories that she has been telling."

"Those elements of the background of this have been published," Cooper said. "For those reasons, we see no reason to bring her into this action."

John Conley, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill law professor who specializes in civil litigation, said there's also no financial payoff in suing Mangum, a single mother and college student who was working as a stripper in March 2006

"You're making your case infinitely messier in a way that gives you no economic benefit," Conley said. "Why would you go through the trouble of a lawsuit against her if she has no means to pay the judgment?"

Mangum hasn't spoken publicly since granting a single interview in the early days of the case, and people close to her family have said she's cut ties while trying to rebuild her life.

Based almost entirely on her story, Nifong won indictments against David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann after she accused them of raping her at an off-campus team party.

The case eventually unraveled and the charges against the three men were dismissed in April 2007 after the North Carolina Attorney General's Office agreed to Nifong's request that it take over. Nifong had, by then, dismissed the rape charges against the trio but was pressing the others.

“For more then a year, the lacrosse players were caught up in a horrifying personal nightmare," Cooper said.

"They were harassed in class by teachers and their fellow students," he said. "They were victimized by a corrupt investigation that ignored or suppressed evidence that would have cleared them. And, all for a crime that never took place.”


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  • Dr. Dataclerk Feb 22, 2008

    Will this ever end? Why are they not going for the gir who started it all? I will be glad to see 2010 maybe just maybe it will be finally over.

  • TUAlpha93 Feb 22, 2008

    Seriously though, enough is enough. Former Duke Lacrosse players, go on with your lives. It's funny; "Conservatives" gave John Edwards a hard time for being a trial lawyer who made his riches by fighting for the rights of the poor and downtrodden. Yet, when “one of their own” wants to file lawsuit after lawsuit, for an “undisclosed amount of money”, it’s ok. Oh, the hypocrisy.

  • TUAlpha93 Feb 22, 2008

    Realthoughts, don't wait for WRAL. Why don't you go ahead and lead that investigation against the NAACP?

  • hrattel Feb 22, 2008

    I say 12(b)(6) it! Dismiss it for Failure to State a Legal Claim! Stop making a mockery of NCs justice system...the players broke the rules by having strippers/escorts, whatever the pc term is, perform at a University owned housing. The only thing we all know for sure is whatever happened in that house is something that we will never know. So stop crying and throwing temper tantrums, suck it up, and get on with your life. It is funny how so many of these upper class citizens think they are due monetary compensation for having to face a little adversity. Meanwhile, the rest of us stand up, dust ourselves off, and move on with our lives.

  • whatusay Feb 22, 2008

    Why are they not sueing Ms Mangum? She is totally responsible for this entire fiasco. I don't remember Duke stating that anyone was guilty of these false crimes. What about Sharpton and Jackson? They make false statements and supported Ms Mangum, and so did many national news reporters. Why is Duke University being singled out? Looks like a bunch of greedy lawyers going "WHERE THE MONEY IS". I have never had any respect for lawyers and this only confirms my resentment for their profession. Ms Mangum should cough up the millions these lawyers are looking for.

  • TheAdmiral Feb 22, 2008

    No lawsuit ever finds the total truth. Through motions and dismissals of evidence, it is another way to suppress facts for circumstance and let those responsible off.

  • issymayake Feb 22, 2008

    newtodurham, I cosign. . and welcome to the Bull City. Make sure you check out our wonderful restaurants!

  • newtodurham Feb 21, 2008

    Can this case show how troubled our legal system is any more?!?!? To be exonerated and have the news repeatedly say it in the news with each mention of the case is not enough.As much as most of you complain about a false sense of entitlement based on your own prejudices, the countless lawsuits for people that never spent an hour behind bars is proof of who really has a false sense of entitlement.

  • Pack1966 Feb 21, 2008

    They weren't treated fairly, and Nifong was "corrupt" at best in his handling of this case. BUT, it all started when these not so fine and upstanding young men decided to hire strippers and get drunk. Behave yourselves in the first place and none of this would ever have happened. I don't think the tax payers should suffer the financial burden of this mess!

  • many moons Feb 21, 2008

    Talking about dragging out a lawsuits for money Gezzz.