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Judge allows federal lawsuits in Duke lacrosse case

Posted March 31, 2011
Updated April 1, 2011

— A federal judge is allowing three former Duke lacrosse players falsely accused of rape to pursue a civil lawsuit against the prosecutor and police investigators who handled their case.

U.S. District Judge James Beaty ruled Thursday that the players – Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and Dave Evans –  can pursue claims such as malicious prosecution, concealment of evidence and fabrication of false evidence against former Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong and a police investigator.

Beaty dismissed several other accusations, such as intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Seligmann's attorney, Richard Emery, said they are prepared to vigorously pursue the case. Charles Davant, an attorney representing Evans and Finnerty, declined to comment.

"The opinion is what I would call, overall, a ringing success for the boys," Emery said. "We're glad that we're moving ahead with the case."

The three were indicted by a Durham County grand jury in 2006 on charges of rape, kidnapping and sexual offense. The charges were the result of an investigation that began when Crystal Mangum told police she was raped at a lacrosse team party where she was hired as a stripper.

The case unraveled, however, in the face of Mangum's constantly changing story and a lack of evidence.

State prosecutors eventually took over the case, dropped all charges and declared the players innocent victims of Nifong's "tragic rush to accuse."

Beaty criticized the size of the 162-page lawsuit, saying it forced the court to "undertake the time-consuming process of wading through a mass of legally unsupportable claims and extraneous factual allegations."

"Going forward, the parties are encouraged to make every effort to reduce the volume of filings and to avoid unnecessary rhetoric," he said.

The civil lawsuit filed in 2007 claims that Nifong and the investigators knowingly and intentionally concealed critical DNA evidence and produced a misleading DNA report. It calls the criminal case against the players "one of the most chilling episodes of premeditated police, prosecutorial and scientific misconduct in modern American history."

Among the people cited in the lawsuit are former Durham Police Chief Steven Chalmers and police investigators Benjamin Himan and Mark Gottlieb. Brian Meehan, the director of DNA Security Inc., which conducted the DNA testing that proved key to unraveling the case, is also named in the suit, as is the lab. The case does not name Mangum.

Beaty also ruled on lawsuits filed by former members of the team who were not charged in the investigation.

Ryan McFadyen, Matthew Wilson and Breck Archer filed a federal lawsuit in 2007, accusing dozens of defendants of fraud, negligence and conspiracy for pursuing the case despite evidence that the rape allegations made against members of the team were false.

The judge threw out most of the 40 claims in the lawsuit. 

Allowed to move forward are four counts each against Nifong and Gottlieb. The counts center on whether the defendants violated the players’ rights in searching their dorm rooms and testing their DNA, whether the men made false statements in public about the unindicted players and whether the men manufactured false or misleading reports of forensic testing.

The judge also allowed obstruction of justice claims to move forward against Duke University, university President Richard Brodhead, members of his staff and the Duke University Health System.

Duke spokesman Mike Schoenfeld said the university will vigorously defend the case.

"Many of the claims in the lawsuits have been dismissed, and the few claims remaining are substantially narrowed, as we had hoped," Schoenfeld said in a statement.

Judge allows federal lawsuits in Duke lacrosse case

The judge dismissed all claims against the Durham Police Department and said the students can't receive punitive damages from the City of Durham.

The City of Durham issued a statement late Thursday saying it was "gratified" the court has narrowed the issues raised in the cases. 

"We believe the court correctly dismissed the punitive damages claims against the city and are pleased and encouraged by that favorable determination," Durham Public Affairs Director Beverly Thompson said. "The city's legal counsel look forward to studying today's decisions in greater detail and remain optimistic that the cases will ultimately be decided in favor of the city and its personnel."

The players are seeking a jury trial and unspecified compensation for past and future economic loss, harm to their reputations, loss of privacy and other damages.

McFadyen, Wilson and Archer were members of the lacrosse team at the time of Mangum's allegations. 

The men were among the team's 47 members who complied with a judge's order to provide DNA samples and be photographed. The team's sole black member was not tested because Mangum said her attackers were white.

McFadyen was suspended from Duke for an e-mail he sent shortly after the team party in which he described how he would kill and skin strippers, according to court documents.

Administrators later reinstated McFadyen, noting that his remarks were "in jest" and a take-off from "American Psycho," a Bret Easton Ellis novel that was made into a movie about a serial killer.

The lawsuit accuses Nifong and police investigators of failing to include the context of the e-mail in the warrant they used to search McFadyen's dorm room. The search warrant later became public record.

"They knew that Ryan's e-mail, taken out of context, would accelerate the firestorm," the lawsuit said.


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  • texastransplant Apr 1, 2011

    Go for it! This is long overdue. While you're at it, why not add defamation of character for all those tools that signed that full page add?

  • Deep thoughts Apr 1, 2011

    Of course they should be allowed to sue. They were railroaded! It's also a great example of why the race card should be removed from the playing deck altogether.

  • LibertarianTechie Apr 1, 2011

    Nifong was in jail; he is now out. He saw this case come along and saw his ticket to get reelected in Durham. The police screwed up with the picture lineup from the get go. And please don't get me going about Richard Broodhead's reaction to the case--he is a joke and am surprised he was not made to leave. The reason the boys have not sued Chrystal Mangum is because she was not charged with lying to the police--nor to the DA in his 15 minute interview with her. Not to mention, she is either in jail or is out on probation and has no money.

  • tritonlm6 Apr 1, 2011

    These kids were railroaded by Nifong. Duke left them flapping in the breeze.

  • CONUNDRUM Apr 1, 2011


    I can see why you think of laughing. Do you really think the Black community has that much power in the justice system? Really think about your answer now. The demand was for justice but what people saw in the media was angry Black folk (as the media will usually shows Black folk, which is why THE MEDIA shows Al Sharpton all the time.) demanding rich White kids punishment.

    Also in 2011 are you still grouping people like that? "The Black community started this affair by falsely accusing three boys of a very serious crime.... in public... on TV... in the news! Made it a national story of racism!" Like the Black community own the news. The story was sensationalize because White Duke Lacrosse players got caught with Black strippers and one was allegedly raped. You said it yourself "The nation loves this kinda stuff."

    And this case will hopefully set a precedent that will have lawyers jump on the bandwagon when people without powerful means are falsely arrested and accused.

  • artist Apr 1, 2011

    "we have a history of black men, also innocent of their "crimes," but due to the flood of inaccurate, race-inspired information, were later found hanging from trees or floating in bodies of water..."


    This case is not about reverse racism.... the issue is about why these boys have a legitimate right to sue the District Attorney and his staff.

    But do take note:


    In fact, the black woman who committed the only crime was Never Charged with anything! No Black person was jailed, accused, or executed in public.


    So I respectfully disagree with your position that since there were atrocities in the past, the accused can not be allowed to use the legal system at present.

    Rodney King did it when he was abused in public. He was paid millions.

  • pthfan22 Apr 1, 2011

    I think Nifong is already in jail? Or at the very least he has been dis-bared.

  • superman Apr 1, 2011

    Lawyers will take a case for a percentage of the award given. You dont have to be rich. They look at the facts in the case and if they seem to think they have merit and they can win they will take the case with no money. In fact the guys probably had dozens of lawyers contacting them to wanting to take their case. If you have ever been in an automobile accident you would know that you get dozens and dozens of letters from lawyers.

  • Raptor06 Apr 1, 2011

    "I tried not to laugh when I read this statement"...artist

    I am laughing at this statement. Apparently you don't know your history. I never thought these guys committed this crime. I "knew" this woman was lying...especially after I saw her speaking to the press. But we have a history of black men, also innocent of their "crimes," but due to the flood of inaccurate, race-inspired information, were later found hanging from trees or floating in bodies of water...no trial was given. I don't remember any of the Duke guys being found in that condition.

    If I knew any of those young men, I would ask them why haven't they filed charges against their accuser. She knew she was lying. I wouldn't care if she could only pay me $5.00 a month of the rest of my life. It's the principle of the thing.

    As I've always said, our Nation's demise will be an inside job. We are going to destroy ourselves because of lies and hate. It has happened in the past and it continues to occur. Too bad for us.

  • pw Apr 1, 2011

    I agree with fishstory.....yes they have a lot of money and yes black or white if you don't have money its very hard to fight off falsehoods like this and it happens alot....but maybe since these guys do have the money they can set a precedent and hope it will finally benefit others in our community and state. Don't falsely accuse and law enforcement better not rush to convict without absolute proof or there will be re-course. Defamation is Defamation weather your white, black, purple or green.