DURHAM, N.C. — An attorney who represented one of three Duke lacrosse players prosecuted on false rape allegations appeared Friday before a special committee examining the Durham Police Department's handling of the case.
Charlotte lawyer Jim Cooney was on the agenda of the special committee's first meeting. Discussion could last from a couple of hours to as long as the entire day.
Cooney represented Reade Seligmann, who along with David Evans and Collin Finnerty, was indicted last year on charges of first-degree rape, sexual assault and kidnapping charges that later were all dropped.
Durham Mayor Bill Bell and members of the Durham City Council called for the 12-member panel in May following an internal police department report that found, in part, that a tense relationship between then-District Attorney Mike Nifong and defense attorneys had hampered the investigation and that detectives had done nothing wrong.
Bell said that report lacked focus and left questions about the police department's role in the case unanswered, specifically who led the investigation — detectives or Nifong.
"It's really an embarrassment that we're going through this and that we have to do this process," Durham City Councilman Eugene Brown said last month. "It's painful, but the truth, sometimes, is painful, and it needs to come out."
Durham Police Chief Steve Chalmers has defended his officers' actions and has said that he wanted a third-party review and a more in-depth report before Bell called for it.
Former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Willis Whichard heads the panel, which also includes retired Chapel Hill police Chief Gregg Jarvies, Durham attorney Ken Spaulding and a victims advocate, Aurelia Sands-Bell.
An exotic dancer, Crystal Gail Mangum, alleged she was raped, sodomized and beaten for nearly 30 minutes during a March 13, 2006, party at a house rented by Evans and two other lacrosse team co-captains.
But the case was troubled, with Mangum changing details of her story from nearly the beginning, claiming she had been raped by numerous men but failing on several occasions to identify the men she said attacked her.
Discrepancies in her story ultimately led to Nifong's dismissing rape charges against the accused in December.
The North Carolina Attorney General's Office, which took over the case in January, dismissed the remaining charges in April and, in what legal observers call a rare move, declared Evans, Finnerty and Seligmann innocent.
Last month, a disciplinary panel from the North Carolina State Bar disbarred Nifong for his handling of the case. He later resigned from his post.
The special committee's convening comes one day after the city announced the man, Jose Lopez Sr., an assistant police chief in Hartford, Conn., who will replace Chalmers when he retires at the end of the year.
Lopez said Thursday he plans to move the police department forward and put the troubled lacrosse case in the past.
"I don't really believe the city of Durham is defined by Duke lacrosse, and neither is this esteemed police department," he said.