Local News

Nifong's Investigator in Duke Case Wants Lawsuit Dropped

Posted January 15, 2008 11:57 a.m. EST
Updated January 15, 2008 7:42 p.m. EST

— The former chief investigator for the Durham County District Attorney's Office filed a motion to dismiss a civil rights lawsuit against him filed last year by the three exonerated men in the Duke lacrosse case.

In the 25-page court document filed Tuesday, Linwood Wilson claims he is entitled to absolute immunity because he was acting as an investigator under the direction of a judicial officer.

That claim included Nifong's decision to withhold exculpatory DNA evidence - the discovery of genetic material from unidentified males, but none from a lacrosse player, on the accuser - from attorneys for the players, the motion argues.

Prosecutors generally have immunity for what they do inside a courtroom, though legal experts have said some of Nifong actions - from calling the lacrosse players a bunch of "hooligans" to putting himself in charge of the investigation - might leave him vulnerable to a civil case.

Wilson's motion also notes that he did not attend meetings between Nifong, police investigators and lab officials, and calls allegations that Wilson was involved in a conspiracy to conceal and fabricate DNA evidence as "nothing more than conclusory."

In another motion by the DNA laboratory that conducted a second round of DNA testing Richard Clark, the president of DNA Security, Inc., said the lab should be immune because it worked as an expert witness for the prosecution.

It states that the lab conducted accurate testing and orally provided complete results to Nifong, who was responsible for making sure all relevant or exculpatory information was eventually provided to defense attorneys.

"The law is clear that the decision about what evidence to provide to (the defense) and when to provide it was Nifong's alone to make," the motion states.

Collin Finnerty, David Evans and Reade Seligmann filed the initial lawsuit in October, about a month after city officials met with lawyers for the families, who were seeking the reforms and a $30 million settlement.

They allege the city of Durham, Nifong, former police Chief Steve Chalmers and several police detectives and officers conspired to keep a weak case alive as Nifong faced election in the Democratic primary for district attorney.

Responses from those defendants were also due Tuesday. Nifong filed for bankruptcy.

In December, the plaintiffs added to the suit Durham City Manager Patrick Baker as a defendant. He has until February to respond.

Evans, Finnerty and Seligmann are asking for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, attorney fees and numerous changes in the way the Durham Police Department handles criminal investigations.

The plaintiffs will have 90 days to respond to the defense's filings.

Finnerty, Evans and Seligmann were charged in April and May 2006 after exotic dancer Crystal Mangum claimed she was raped at an off-campus party hosted by lacrosse players.

Even as the case unfolded, Nifong pursued charges of first-degree rape, kidnapping and sexual assault until December, when he dismissed the rape charge against the three men.

Less than a month later, he recused himself from the case and asked for a special prosecutor to handle it. Earlier this year, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper dropped the case, saying his special prosecutors had found no grounds to proceed.

Last month, three other members of Duke's 2006 men's lacrosse team who were not indicted in the criminal case filed a second federal lawsuit against many of the same defendants and others, including Duke University.