Local News

Feds Won't Investigate Nifong

Posted January 16, 2007 2:26 p.m. EST
Updated January 16, 2007 8:26 p.m. EST

— The U.S. Department of Justice has rejected a congressman's request to investigate Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong's actions in the Duke University lacrosse case.

Nonetheless, 3rd District Rep. Walter Jones will continue trying to get officials to examine Nifong's conduct, his spokeswoman said.

Jones, a Republican, last month sent two letters to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez asking him to investigate what Jones said he believed was prosecutorial misconduct by Nifong, a Democrat.

Jones said Nifong made prejudicial statements to the media and told Durham police to violate identification procedures. He also cited the fact that more than nine months had passed before Nifong spoke to the accuser in the case.

A student at North Carolina Central University said three Duke lacrosse players sexually assaulted her at an off-campus team party last March 13. Reade Seligmann, 20, of Essex Fells, N.J., Collin Finnerty, 20, of Garden City, N.Y., and David Evans, 23, of Bethesda, Md., have been charged with kidnapping and sexual offense in the case.

Rape charges against the three players were dropped last month.

U.S. Acting Assistant Attorney General Richard Hertling wrote to Jones last Thursday, saying the Justice Department wouldn't look into the matter.

Hertling said the dismissal of the rape charge addressed some of Jones' concerns and that the North Carolina State Bar was examining Nifong's conduct.

The State Bar filed a complaint against Nifong last month over his public comments about the Duke case. Nifong might face a second complaint regarding his agreement with the director of a DNA lab to withhold some findings of tests conducted in the case.

"Issues related to your concerns may well be raised in the local criminal case. Accordingly, based upon the information available at this time, it would be premature to initiate a federal investigation into this ongoing state criminal prosecution," Hertling wrote.

Kathleen Joyce, Jones' press secretary, said Tuesday that the congressman continues to press for a federal investigation. He has spoken with Hertling in recent days and plans to meet next week with director of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, she said.

Nifong asked Friday that the state appoint a special prosecutor to take over the Duke case. Joyce said that since he is no longer involved with the case, there should be no problem with federal government's reviewing his actions.

"It is Congressman Jones' position that, in light of Mr. Nifong's recusal from the case, there is no reason the Department of Justice should not initiate an investigation into whether Mr. Nifong's actions constitute prosecutorial misconduct and (have) denied the three Duke students their civil rights," Joyce said.