Local News

Justice Department Says It Will Not Investigate Nifong

Posted December 5, 2007 4:45 p.m. EST
Updated December 6, 2007 7:35 p.m. EST

— The U.S. Department of Justice will not investigate former Duke lacrosse prosecutor Mike Nifong for his handling of the case, a spokesman for the agency said Wednesday.

That decision also jeopardizes a possible investigation at the state level, according to Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina Attorney General's Office.

Talley said state prosecutors don't have the same tools available to federal investigators, such as the ability to indict someone on charges of lying to investigators.

"It would be difficult to conduct additional investigation into this matter without federal participation," she said. "Our attorneys and the SBI will discuss the impact of this refusal."

Department of Justice spokesman Peter Carr said the agency carefully considered the case but decided it was an issue better resolved inside the state.

"We believe the State of North Carolina has the primary interests in this matter: protecting the integrity of its judicial proceedings, holding Mr. Nifong accountable for his actions as an officer of its courts, and vindicating the principles of justice under state law," Carr said in a statement.

He would not comment on the specifics of the state investigation or the tools available to state prosecutors.

U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-North Carolina, first asked the Justice Department last December to review the case, calling Nifong’s conduct an “illegal abuse of authority” that “cries out for federal oversight.”

But the Justice Department declined to intervene, saying it was more appropriate to allow the case to play out. It also said it would be “premature to initiate a federal investigation" because the case was still active at the time.

Federal attorneys also noted that Nifong already faced ethics charges from the North Carolina State Bar.

Earlier this year, Jim Hardin, who stepped in as an interim Durham district attorney after Nifong resigned from the office, requested that the State Bureau of Investigation determine whether any person involved in the case should be prosecuted.

Jim Cooney, attorney for one of the players during the criminal case, said the Justice Department's decision is "not an exoneration of anyone and it's certainly not a clean bill of health. All they're saying is they are not going to pursue criminal violations of civil rights law. If state crimes were committed or other federal crimes were committed, I'm sure those could still be investigated."

Nifong pursued charges in the spring of 2006 against three Duke lacrosse players falsely accused of raping an exotic dancer during an off-campus party. State prosecutors who took over the case called the players innocent, and Nifong later resigned his seat and was disbarred.

He also spent a night in jail after a judge held him criminal contempt of court for his conduct during the case. His attorney did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

In October, the three lacrosse players filed a federal lawsuit against Nifong, the City of Durham, several police officials and others.