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U.S. Court of Appeals Dismisses Bulk of Duke Lacrosse Lawsuit

RALEIGH, N.C. — A court Monday dismissed the bulk of a federal lawsuit filed by former Duke University lacrosse players falsely accused of raping a stripper.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit rejected all claims for damages filed under federal law against the City of Durham and its police department. The three-judge panel in Richmond, Va., left intact claims under North Carolina law that Durham officials violated the players’ constitutional rights and claims that two police detectives engaged in malicious prosecution.

David F. Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann faced felony charges in 2006 after a mentally ill woman hired as a stripper at an off-campus team party claimed she had been gang raped.

The case, which featured a Black woman making salacious accusations against White athletes at one of the nation’s top colleges, garnered international media attention and heightened long-standing tensions in Durham about race, class and privilege.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper later declared the players innocent and dismissed all charges, criticizing what he called a “tragic rush to accuse” by Durham police and prosecutors.

Former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong was later disbarred after it was determined he broke more than two dozen rules of professional conduct. He later declared personal bankruptcy, citing his potential multimillion-dollar liability from civil suits related to the case.

The three lacrosse players also sued Duke University over its handling of the rape allegations, reaching an undisclosed financial settlement in 2007.

In its 58-page ruling Monday, the appeals court also threw out all federal claims filed in two separate lawsuits against the city by lacrosse players who were never criminally charged but who claimed to have suffered damages through the course of the investigation. The unindicted players also have a pending civil case against Duke University.

Despite the surviving claims under state law, Durham Assistant City Attorney Kim Rehberg said Monday’s ruling was a positive one for the city.

“There was good progress made today,” Rehberg said. “This is definitely a good decision for the city defendants.”

Duke University spokesman Michael Schoenfeld declined to comment.

Lawyers for Evans and Finnerty also declined to comment. A lawyer representing Seligmann did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Crystal Mangum, the dancer who made the false rape claim against the players, was convicted of misdemeanor charges in 2010 after setting a fire that nearly torched her home with her three children inside. The following year, Mangum was charged with first-degree murder and two counts of larceny after prosecutors say she stabbed her boyfriend to death.

She is currently in the Durham County jail awaiting trial.

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