Thirty-eight members of the 2006 Duke University lacrosse team filed a lawsuit Thursday against the university, President Richard Brodhead, the city of Durham, N.C., and a nurse at Duke University Hospital for emotional distress and other damages resulting from a now-discredited rape case.
Collin Finnerty, Reade Seligmann and David Evans, the lacrosse players accused of kidnapping and raping a woman at a team party in March of 2006, were exonerated last year. The case fell apart for lack of DNA evidence and because the alleged victim retracted much of her story.
Charles Cooper, attorney for the 38 team members and nine family members participating in the lawsuit, said the players were “reviled in the local and national press as a depraved gang of privileged White hooligans who brutally raped a Black exotic dancer in a crowded bathroom.”
“For more than a year, the lacrosse players were harassed in class by teachers and students. They were the targets of protest marches … victimized by a corrupt investigation that ignored evidence that would have cleared them. The university turned its back on the players to protect its own image,” Cooper said.
During the tumultuous period, Duke University officials suspended the lacrosse team from play until a “clearer resolution of the legal situation” was reached and fired the team’s coach. According to Cooper, Brodhead issued statements and imposed a series of severe disciplinary actions on the team that signaled the players’ guilt.
The whole incident raised issues of class and race. Also at issue is the impact of a full-page advertisement in the students newspaper, the Duke Chronicle, purchased by faculty members stating the concerns minority students had expressed in town-hall style forums. The advertisement was signed by 88 faculty members, representing 13 departments.
“The impact of the ad was devastating,” Dr. Steven Baldwin, a chemistry professor at Duke told Diverse in a March 2007 story. “This was a large segment of the faculty, some highly respected, and it really swung the pendulum against the lacrosse players.”
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, alleges that university officials remained silent while Duke faculty harassed team members.
Duke and Broadhead remained silent when nurse Tara Levicy allegedly falsely stated that a medical examination of the plaintiff indicated that a rape had taken place. Lastly, Brodhead failed to publicly acknowledge that the players voluntarily submitted to an all-night interrogation session, the search of their residences and a polygraph tests when the media charged the players of hiding behind a “conspiratory wall of silence.”
Two individuals, not included in the complaint, were the accuser and former Durham District Attorney Michael Nifong, who won indictments against Finnerty, Seligmann and Evans for rape despite contrary DNA evidence.
Cooper stated that since Nifong has filed for bankruptcy, he could not be named in the lawsuit. The suit, however, condemns Nifong for hiding and fabricating evidence, intimidating witnesses, rigging photo lineups and ignoring other evidence that demonstrated the players’ innocence. Nifong has since been disbarred.
Duke officials have not yet seen the lawsuit but insist that Cooper’s case is “misdirected and without merit.”
“To help these families move on, Duke offered to cover the cost of any attorneys’ fees or other out-of-pocket expenses, but they rejected this offer. We will vigorously defend the university against these claims. We do not think it is appropriate under the North Carolina federal court rules to make any further statements,” said Pamela Bernard, Duke vice president and general counsel, in an official statement.
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