DURHAM, N.C. — A former North Carolina Supreme Court justice will likely head an independent review of how the Durham police department handled it investigation of rape and sexual assault case against three former Duke lacrosse players.
In a letter to the Durham City Council, Mayor Bill Bell said Willis Whichard should lead the committee of nine to 12 law enforcement officials, criminal defense attorneys and community members. The panel would review documents, conduct interviews and perform other tasks associated with the review.
Bell said the committee should be as equally balanced by race and gender as possible and that none of the members should have any connection with anyone involved in the case, including former or current members of the Duke lacrosse team; Crystal Mangum, the accuser in the case; Duke University, or North Carolina Central University, where Mangum was enrolled at the time she claimed she was assaulted.
The investigation should take 30 to 60 days, Bell said. If improprieties are found, the committee would be charged with helping the police department avoid similar mistakes in the future, the mayor added.
The City Council, which voted 6-1 last Thursday in favor of a review, must sign off on Whichard and on Bell's proposal. Members will work out the details in a meeting scheduled for Friday.
Bell called for the probe following a May 11 police department report that found no wrongdoing by investigators in the case. He said the report lacked focus and left questions unanswered about the yearlong criminal investigation of rape and sexual assault charges filed against David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann.
Whichard, who was justice from 1986 to 1998, is a familiar name in political and legal circles in the Triangle. From Durham, he is also a former state lawmaker, having served in both chambers of the General Assembly in the 1970s.
Police Chief Steve Chalmers, who said last week he had always wanted a third-party review, said he supports the review, but also defends his department's handling of the case.