Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Twenty Questions

Today’s N&O reveals the latest in the Durham Police’s inexplicably shoddy investigation into the Duke lacrosse case. On March 14, police initially took the accuser to the Durham Access Center, where involuntary commitment loomed. Three people saw the accuser at the Access Center; one asked her if she had been raped; when she responded yes, this case took a new turn.

Mike Nifong long has claimed a single-page log sheet constitutes the only record of the accuser’s 40-minute stay at the Center. A defense motion filed yesterday, however, asserts that at least one Access Center employee took handwritten notes of the accuser’s arrival. No explanation exists as to why Nifong has not turned these notes over to the defense, as state law requires him to do.

Much more important, the defense motion contends that–months after the event–police hadn’t interviewed any of the three Access Center employees who saw the accuser before she went to the hospital on March 14. It’s hard to fathom an innocent explanation for this oversight: could it be the Durham Police fear what the Access Center employees might have revealed, and so made little or no effort to track them down?

The suddenly “discovered” Durham Access Center notes are the latest in a long line of unusual police procedures. Those who didn’t know better would almost assume that the police acted as they did so as to ensure they would possess as scant evidence as possible to take to the grand jury.

Some questions to ponder include:

1.) Why, as a recent law enforcement post on Liestoppers asked, did the police not immediately dispatch a unit to the scene of the alleged crime to secure it; and rouse a judge from sleep to obtain a search warrant? “The one reasonable conclusion that could be reached: For this basic tenet to be ignored, the accuser’s alternating and conflicting versions of events could have been determined immediately to be not credible.”

2.) Why, on March 16, did Durham Police not tape record their initial interview with the accuser? That way, the debate over the wildly divergent descriptions she allegedly gave could have been easily settled.

3.) Why, after obtaining access to the captains’ email accounts on March 16, have the police still not (according to a claim by Nifong in his last court appearance) completed their examination of the captains’ emails? What if a crime had actually occurred, and the players had discussed the perpetrators in their emails?

4.) Why did police, in their March 16 and March 21 photo arrays, use lacrosse player photos as the filler photos, even though city procedures required use of fillers uninvolved in any way with the case?

5.) When and how did the police clear Kim Roberts as a suspect for robbery, as the accuser repeatedly alleged in her early statements? Did this matter account for the strange delay (8 days after the alleged incident) before they interviewed Roberts? If not, why did the police wait so long to track down such an important witness?

6.) When Roberts gave her statement to police on March 22, why did they not show her a lineup–rather than wait until May 11, almost two months later?

7.) What accounts for the police not immediately clearing up whether or not non-lacrosse players attended the party? What if a crime had actually occurred and non-players were responsible?

8.) Why did police (or Nifong) not immediately learn of the accuser’s previous allegation of a three-man gang rape?

9.) On March 23, Nifong's office asked the court to order non-testimonial photographs. What justification did the police and Nifong have to have avoided mentioning that the department had already done lineups with the lacrosse players’ photos; and had obtained descriptions of the possible attackers from the accuser; and in those lineups, the accuser couldn't identify any suspects?

10.) What rationale did the police have for allowing the accuser to wait until 23 days after the incident to give her statement, since that statement should have formed the basis for their inquiry?

11.) Why did police wait until 23 days after the incident, or April 6, to obtain a statement from the accuser’s “driver,” Jarriel Johnson–a statement that revealed some troubling behavior by the accuser in the days before the incident?

12.) Why did the police and Nifong not investigate the accuser’s cellphone records before securing indictments? What if the accuser had placed a phone call describing her alleged attackers?

13.) Why did Nifong and the police not investigate the alibis of Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty before arresting them?

14.) Why did the police not search suspects’ rooms before securing indictments?

15.) Why was Nifong’s chief investigator, Linwood Wilson, apparently unaware that the accuser had changed her story in statements to police?

A few questions of evidence preservation also seem self-evident.

16.) Why have police not turned over, as required, the March 14 radio call of Sgt. Shelton to police headquarters–the initial contact between law enforcement and the accuser?

17.) Why have police not turned over, as required, their internal e-mails on the case–documents it should take virtually no time to produce?

18.) Why did Sgt. Mark Gottlieb apparently take handwritten notes on only one day during the entire investigation?

These questions lead to two other questions, which are not mutually exclusive:

19.) Are the officers handling this case, headed by Sgt. Gottlieb, as stunningly incompetent as the above record suggests?

20.) Did the officers handling this case, headed by Sgt. Gottlieb, understand that once Nifong publicly proclaimed that a rape occurred on March 27, they needed to avoid uncovering any and all evidence that could contradict the D.A.’s theory?

One bonus question: How could other North Carolina figures in law enforcement allow this record to stand uncondemned, thereby presenting an image to the country that the state routinely conducts investigations in this manner?


Anonymous said...

Excellent questions, Professor Johnson. Your running commentary is precise and informative. Hope the defense attorneys are reading it.

Anonymous said...

Excellent points overall. The stake thru the heart question though, imho, is number 20.
After all, if a DA declares out loud and in public and with no way to turn back that the accused are absolutely guilty - where does that leave his many employees? In this type situation, what would be the career consequences of being the one who puts into the record facts which humiliate the BOSS? Evidence that gets into the system must have a name attached. Police investigators cannot offer their discoveries as anonymous tips.
If no other good comes from this stinking mess, perhaps it will serve a reminder of why certain rules for restraining proscecutors behaviour were established in the first place.

August West said...

Hope the defense attorneys are reading it.

Ya think? I think they're reading all of it...everywhere...every day.

::..Clicks on: "Hi KC, You’ve done it again. Another terrific post."..::

Anonymous said...

Many questions there! Great job!

I keep seeing "shoddy" used to describe many of the short comings in the investigation of this case. The first couple left me thinking about the lead investigator, but there are so many I don't see how ALL of them can be attributed to him.

The multitude of tasks left unattended or avoided completely in this investigation, in my mind, narrows it down to one of three people that must shoulder the blame, or even guilt of why this has happened.

It's either;
A) The District Attorney,
B) The Lead Prosecutor, or
C) The man that took charge of this investigation.

Anonymous said...

Great questions. My favorite is #13 asking why didn't they check out Seligman and Finnerty's alibi.

Regarding #19, the answer is YES they are incompetent. Unscrupulous, but also incompetent.

Anonymous said...

Prof. Johnson,

To get the right answers, you need to ask the right questions. I have proposed some of the questions you raise, but your list is more comprehensive and better written. Well done!

kcjohnson9 said...

Thanks for those who have offered possible answers/statements of significance on some of the questions.

I agree with J that normally an accuser's cellphone records wouldn't have been investigated--and, of course, Nifong&Co. have been operating under the presmise that nothing she ever says can be doubted.

Anonymous said...

Alleged victims are not investigated?
Well, they sure investigated the cabbie, and he was a witness. So, give me a break. They would have investigated her if they wanted to. To me, it's rather clear that they did not investigate her because they did not want to uncover anything about her that could suggest she is not all that credible.

Anonymous said...

The truly nightmarish nature of what Nifong is doing is becoming more clear every day: No fact or piece of evidence, no matter how solid or exculpatory, is ever going to cause him to call off his dogs. Who doubts at this point that if Ms. Crytal recanted that he would not try to suppress it and push on?
Nifong is trying to trash the whole tradition and meaning of anglo-saxon jurisprudence - right out in the open - just to show that he can.
Maybe he needs the money and the pension of a DA, maybe he wants to punish some Dukies; but my bet is that he has major manhood issues and shortcomings to rectify and what better way (if you are a twisted little middle aged loser) than to ritually torment younger, more virile, athletic men?
At any rate, he seems to have forgotten that this is America and the rock has been lifted off his worm and roach crawling corruption. A free press and all that, followed by disbarment, prison, and a lifetime spent flailing helplessly against a series of ruthless civil suits.