Local News

Durham Police Chief Wanted Outside Probe of Lacrosse Case

Posted May 24, 2007 6:49 a.m. EDT
Updated May 27, 2007 7:20 p.m. EDT

— Durham's police chief said Thursday that he had wanted a third-party review into investigators' handling of the Duke lacrosse case, but City Manger Patrick Baker wanted to go ahead and release an internal report on the matter.

Talking for the first time about the case, Chief Steve Chalmers said he also wanted an in-depth detailed report, but that someone in Baker’s office told him to keep it to four to five pages.

Baker has said that the police report was never meant to be a comprehensive one.

“As a matter of fact, I would just like to clear the record and let it be known that I had actually requested a third-party review even prior to the mayor asking for one,” Chalmers told reporters. “I felt that was probably the best alternative for us from the start.”

Durham Mayor Bill Bell called for an outside review following on May 11 police department report that found no wrongdoing by investigators in the case. Bell said the report lacked focus and left questions unanswered about the yearlong criminal investigation of rape and sexual assault charges filed against three former lacrosse athletes.

Bell seemed a bit skeptical about Chalmers' claim, wanting to know why that wasn't known when the departmental report was released.

On Thursday, City Council members agreed, voting 6-1 to pursue another review that detailed officers' roles in the case, as well as that of District Attorney Mike Nifong.

"I've been analyzing over the last several days the evidence in this case, and I must say, I'm overwhelmed by the evidence and underwhelmed by our police department's response," council member Eugene Brown said in support of the outside investigation.

Councilwoman Diane Cattoti voted against the measure, saying she wasn't against an outside review, but she would not vote in favor of one without details and parameters.

Details of the review, including who will conduct it and how much it will cost, will be finalized at a June 1 meeting.

Chalmers also said Thursday that police led the investigation at all times and that investigators were willing to defend their actions in court, if necessary.

“We can explain roles and responsibilities and we can explain how this investigation went from the beginning right to the end,” Chalmers said.

He also criticized the City Council.

Council members "are perfectly willing to listen to the rumor mill and talk to anybody and everyone other than the police chief," he said. "I would have hoped they'd have at least enough respect for this organization to sit down one-on-one or in twos and say, 'help us to understand what happened here.'"

Earlier this month, Baker said, in part, that a tense relationship between the District Attorney's Office, police investigators and the defense team hampered the investigation, but he said he found no wrongdoing.

He also admitted that the overall investigation was flawed, but dismissed the criticism that Nifong directed the investigation.

Bell had initially asked the state Attorney General's Office to handle the independent review, but since it is not a criminal case, Attorney General Roy Cooper asked the State Bureau of Investigation to compile a list of law enforcement experts capable of such a review.

The list includes current and retired police chiefs from the Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Fayetteville and Rocky Mount police departments.

The three former lacrosse players, David Evans, Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty, were each indicted on charges of rape, kidnapping and sexual offense last spring after Crystal Gail Mangum, an exotic dancer hired to perform at a team party in March 2006, claimed she was attacked.

After Mangum changed key details in her story, Nifong dismissed the rape charges on Dec. 22.

Special prosecutors with the Attorney General's Office took over the investigation in January, when Nifong recused himself from the case amid ethics charges by the North Carolina State Bar.

Cooper dropped the remaining charges April 11, citing a lack of evidence in the case, and declared all three men innocent.