The depositions of Officer Ben Himan, Sgt. Mark Gottlieb, ex-Investigator Linwood Wilson, and Lt. Mike Ripberger should be required reading for all members of the Whichard Committee, which is investigating the DPD’s mishandling of the lacrosse case.
Much of the blame for what Lane Williamson appropriately termed the “fiasco” has fallen on the shoulders of Mike Nifong. But the officers’ depositions reveal a department:
- unable to evaluate basic evidence;
- careless about basic investigative practices; and
- unwilling to follow its own procedures, as part of a general disrespect for principles of due process.
Today’s post will look at the first of these items—the department’s apparent inability to evaluate evidence. Tomorrow’s post will examine the other two issues.
During his deposition, Sgt. Mark Gottlieb three times asserted that Crystal Mangum’s basic story remained consistent from the time Mangum first interacted with SANE nurse-in-training Tara Levicy on March 14, 2006 until the Linwood Wilson “interview” of December 21, 2006.
- “From the time that she [Mangum] spoke with the SANE Nurse [in training] all the way up through December, her story didn’t really change.” (p. 94)
- “That is what I was talking about as far as her story not changing from the time she was with the SANE nurse [in training] up until November. I think there were minor things, but nothing dramatic.” (p. 104)
- “As soon as Nurse Levicy was able to calm her down, which didn’t take long at all, she never changed her story from that point.” (p. 185)
(Between April 6 and December 21, Mangum was never asked about the specifics of the “attacks” by any representative of either the police or of Nifong’s office—so her story couldn’t change over that 7½-month period.)
Sgt. Gottlieb first went to work in the Durham Police Department in 1987. It would seem reasonable to assume that an officer the department would keep on the force for the better part of two decades would have sufficient basic comprehension skills to understand when a story changed and when it didn’t “really change.”
Based on his deposition comments, however, Gottlieb appears to lack the ability to analyze witness statements to determine consistency—something that would seem to be a basic qualification for any police officer.
Take, for instance, the chart below, which is adapted from an item that State Bar attorney Doug Brocker presented during the Nifong ethics hearing. It examines who allegedly did what to Mangum, as well as the marital status of her “attackers”:
- A green X corresponds to the story that Mangum told Tara Levicy on March 14, 2006.
- A blue Y corresponds to the story that Mangum told Gottlieb and Officer Ben Himan on March 16, 2006.
- A red Z corresponds to the story that Mangum provided in her April 6, 2006 official statement.
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Mangum, in short, described three quite different “attacks.” Of course, when she was asked about the “attack” on December 21, she would come up with a fourth different story. And when the special prosecutors would ask her about the “attack,” she would come up with a fifth, entirely different, story.
Given that in the three stories Mangum had different people doing different things to her; different numbers of people doing different things to her; and, actually, different things being done to her, how could a veteran of the force possibly say that “as soon as Nurse Levicy was able to calm her down [on March 14], which didn’t take long at all, she never changed her story from that point”?
Is Gottlieb similarly unable to evaluate the evidence before him in all his cases? And given these disparities, why did his supervisors not step in?
Or take the role of Kim Roberts in the “attack.” In her March 14 statement to SANE-in-training Levicy, Mangum accused Roberts of robbing her. She also described Roberts as an accessory to the rape—helping to carry her unwillingly back into the house and cleaning her up after the “attack.”
In Mangum’s March 16 interview with Himan and Gottlieb, Roberts played a passive role—neither facilitating the “attack” nor being victimized by it.
In Mangum’s April 6 written statement to police, Roberts was a fellow “victim” and, in fact, a vital witness to the “crime.” She, like Mangum, was scared by the racial epithets—indeed, was in tears. And she was torn away from Mangum and the three “attackers” at the bathroom door by three never-identified people, after which she suffered a fate unknown.
How could Gottlieb—a police officer of two decades’ experience—possibly say that the wildly contradictory versions of Kim Roberts’ role reflected a story that “didn’t really change”?
Mangum also varied in her claims about whether the players used first-name aliases. In her March 14 story to Levicy and her March 16 interview with Himan and Gottlieb, she suggested that her attackers were named Matt, Adam, and Brett—so much so that the police ran lineups with the lacrosse players named Matt, Adam, and Brett/Breck as the suspects.
By the time of her April 6 statement, however, Mangum was certain that “Matt,” “Adam,” and “Brett” were aliases. How did she reach this conclusion? She didn’t say, and the police apparently didn’t ask.
The above items, meanwhile, don’t even take into account the version of events that Mangum told UNC doctors on March 15, 2006—one day after SANE-in-training Levicy supposedly “calmed” her down.
On that occasion, she said that she was “drunk” and “felt no pain” on the night of the “attack”—even though Levicy had based much of her analysis on the fact that Mangum supposedly was in pain and was not drunk. Mangum also claimed to have been hit in the face and pushed backwards into the sink, on which she hit her head, details that didn’t appear in her March 14, March 16, or April 6 versions of events.
When asked about these discrepancies by Doug Brocker, Gottlieb—astonishingly—replied, “This is not a report that I have had time to review.”
The grand jury that indicted Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty, therefore, never heard about the UNC report. Yet what the grand jury did hear from Gottlieb flowed from his inability to evaluate the evidence before him.
In response to a question from Nifong attorney Dudley Witt, Gottlieb said that he told the grand jury that “as soon as Nurse Levicy was able to calm her down, which didn’t take long at all, she never changed her story from that point.”
In making its indictments, therefore, the grand jury relied on Gottlieb’s assertion that—despite transforming Roberts from a criminal to a fellow victim, and despite alleging that different people did different things to her, and despite sometimes claiming to be drunk and sometimes not, and despite changing her mind on whether first-name aliases were used—Mangum “never changed her story” between the time she first encountered Tara Levicy to the time that Gottlieb spoke to the grand jury.
How could any fair-minded committee not be horrified by Gottlieb’s admission that his inability to evaluate evidence led to a grand jury receiving such an inaccurate portrayal of the facts of the case?