Yesterday’s Herald-Sun made public the two sides in the civil suits against Durham. On the one side: two of the nation’s most powerful attorneys, Williams & Connolly’s Brendan Sullivan and Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project. On the other: Durham’s city attorney, the appropriately named Henry Blinder, who certainly appears to have had blinders on as the Police Department ran roughshod over procedures last year. Durham has a $5 million insurance policy to cover liability from civil suits.
Reporter Ray Gronberg asked Jim Coleman to analyze the strength of the falsely accused students’ case: “Clearly, there was wrongdoing. The city needs to assess the extent of it, and decide whether it bears responsibility. My guess is it will conclude it does.”
The move, Coleman noted, came as no surprise: “That was the whole point of why this case was so extraordinary. These were not run-of-the-mill, poor, unconnected people. These are students who could command the very best lawyers in the country.”
Both Coleman and Duke Law professor Erwin Chemerinsky pointed to the city’s likely vulnerability under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, which allows people to sue in federal court over “the deprivation of any rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution.”
Such suits are often confined to rogue police officers, but in this case the 2007 actions of key Durham officials are likely to prove very costly to the city’s long-term financial health. The city’s key area of vulnerability, Coleman noted, is the procedurally tainted April 4, 2006 lineup, in which ex-DA Nifong instructed the police to violate their own procedures and confine the lineup to suspects.
Coleman told Gronberg that the officers “had an independent obligation to handle this thing according to their own polices, and they've pretty much acknowledged they didn't do that. And, obviously, that had some pretty serious consequences. The students wouldn't have been indicted if they didn't run that flawed identification process.”
Indeed, given the decimation of Brian Meehan’s findings in the December 15 hearing, it’s now evident that the results of the flawed ID process constituted the only evidence used to indict the three specific people ultimately targeted.
In the last four months, in depositions before the State Bar and in a public report, the decision to override procedures has been justified, on the record, by:
In short, the Baker/Chalmers/Ripberger/Gottlieb quartet have made the students’ case for them, by affirming that the decision to override procedures was not the result of a rogue act but instead a calculated decision that the entire leadership of the Police Department backed, either at the time or subsequently. Perhaps Blinder should have taken off his blinders before allowing the quartet to make such statements on the record.
According to Gronberg, “Coleman added that the city could also be liable for false statements impugning the players that police made knowing they were ‘wrong or they were reckless.’”
This claim would seem to place in the crosshairs Cpl. David Addison, who dominated the local media last March with a string of demonstrably false statements about the players’ actions and the evidence in the case.
- “You are looking at one victim brutally raped. If that was someone else’s daughter, child, I don’t think 46 (tests) would be a large enough number to figure out exactly who did it.” (WRAL, March 24)
Addisonsaid police approached the lacrosse team with the five-page search warrant on March 16, but that all of the members refused to cooperate with the investigation.” (Herald-Sun, March 25)
- “We’re asking someone from the lacrosse team to step forward . . . We will be relentless in finding out who committed this crime.” (N&O, March 25)
Addisonsaid police can’t force samples from anyone they believe to be implicated in a crime. But he said that, in this situation, there was ‘really, really strong physical evidence.’” (Herald-Sun, March 25)
- “We’re not saying that all 46 were involved. But we do know that some of the players inside that house on that evening knew what transpired and we need them to come forward.” (ABC, March 26)
- “Although we have received many calls expressing concerns and anger about this incident, we have not received any calls which will allow us to assist in resolving this case. We are extending our plea for information and help to our Duke family, who are also part of our community.” (WRAL, March 28)
Addison and the DPD have repeatedly refused public comment on why the corporal chose to go public with false or misleading statements.
The bottom line: Durham has no case.