Press Release No. 3
Friends of Duke University
Date: December 18, 2006
Subject: Request by Congressman Walter Jones to the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate civil rights violations by Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong
Jason Trumpbour, Spokesperson
Tel: (443) 834-3666
Congressman Jones’ Request
The Friends of Duke University enthusiastically endorses Congressman Walter Jones’ call for the Justice Department to open an inquiry into the misconduct of Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong.
Congressman Jones highlights two of the myriad improper actions by Mr. Nifong. After two lineups left the accuser unable to identify any of her alleged attackers, Mr. Nifong—who has a duty to serve as the county’s “minister of justice”—instructed the Durham Police to conduct a third lineup. This time, however, he told the police to violate their own procedures and confine the array to members of the Duke lacrosse team, all of whom the district attorney had identified as suspects. As Congressman Jones suggests, a prosecutor ordering the police to override procedures designed to safeguard the rights of suspects almost certainly violated the players’ civil rights.
Secondly, Congressman Jones points to the many public statements by the district attorney—statements that misled the public by suggesting that the players had refused to cooperate with police, that condoms might have been used, and even that the DNA tests would clear the innocent. “After all,” the congressman correctly concludes, “if the American people cannot trust those who they've empowered to pursue justice fairly, then hope for this democracy is lost.”
Revelations from Friday’s court session increase the urgency of Jones’ request. Under oath, Dr. Brian Meehan, head of DNA Security lab, admitted that he and Mr. Nifong entered into an agreement to “intentionally” exclude test results favorable to the defense from Dr. Meehan’s report. This decision violated not only the right of the defendants to due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (See Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963)), but also North Carolina’s Open Discovery law, which requires all case-related material—exculpatory or not—to be handed over to the defense.
The administration’s silence about Mr. Nifong’s continued assault on the civil liberties of Duke students appears to be having an unfortunate, if inevitable, effect. Figures released last week indicated that early admissions applications for the Class of 2011 plunged by nearly 20 percent from last year’s total, to the lowest amount in nearly a decade. Surely any prospective parent would have to think twice about sending a son or daughter to an institution whose leadership has stood aside as a local prosecutor targets students through procedurally improper actions.
Events of last week indicate that now, more than ever, Duke’s leadership needs to take a public stand in favor of its students’ right to due process. We urge Richard Brodhead, president of Duke University; Robert Steel, chairman of the Duke University Board of Trustees; and all other members of the Board of Trustees to publicly endorse Congressman Jones’ request.
After all, a sitting congressman has now gone on record urging a federal investigation into whether local authorities have violated the civil rights and civil liberties of Duke students. Endorsing the request by Congressman Jones would not require President Brodhead, Chairman Steel, or any member of the Board of Trustees to take a position with respect to the guilt or innocence of the accused, as they have refused to do to date. Such an endorsement would only require support for the undeniable proposition that public information suggests there is a sufficient likelihood of civil rights violations to merit a federal investigation.
As the January 2 deadline for admissions applications approaches, it would be highly unfortunate for the administration, through its silence, to suggest to prospective Duke parents that a congressman has more concern with Duke students receiving due process than does their own institution.
Our Group and Its Mission
The Friends of Duke University consists of alumni, parents, faculty and friends of Duke who are deeply concerned about the University’s response to the lacrosse case. We want to ensure fair and equitable treatment for Reade Seligmann, Colin Finnerty and David Evans and feel that the University itself has not done enough to pursue such treatment.
Although we have been happy to take a leadership role in speaking out on behalf of these falsely accused students, we have done so with the recognition that our efforts have largely gone toward filling a vacuum left by Duke’s own leadership. We believe Duke University needs to stand up for its students and for itself.
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