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Duke denies wrongdoing in lax cases

Duke has denied it did anything wrong in its handling of rape accusations against members of the 2006 men’s lacrosse team.

The denials come in lengthy legal filings and address claims that Duke officials misled the players and improperly disclosed some private information to the Durham police. In the filings Duke also denied claims that the nurse who examined Crystal Mangum—the woman who falsely accused three lacrosse players of raping her in March 2006—made up evidence or altered the examination report. The two lawsuits were filed by players who were not charged with rape.

The University’s two responses, filed Thursday [PDFs: Carrington | McFadyen], mark the first time Duke has formally addressed the factual allegations raised in the two lawsuits. The 732 pages of filings also provide insights into the legal strategies Duke’s attorneys may use as they defend the University and its employees.

In the documents, Duke states that any damages the lacrosse players may have sustained were caused by the false rape allegations made by Mangum and the botched prosecution conducted by former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong.

“The causation issues here I think are very real,” said School of Law professor Thomas Metzloff, a civil suit specialist who is not involved in the case. “[Duke claims] any injury comes from what Crystal Mangum did initially and then what Nifong did.”

Lawyers for the players declined to comment on the filings, as did Michael Schoenfeld, Duke’s vice president for public affairs and government relations.

None of the 41 players involved in the two suits were among the three Mangum falsely accused of rape in 2006. Those players—David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann—have settled with Duke but are currently suing Durham officials. The city of Durham, Durham Police Department officers and Nifong are also named in the two suits filed by the unindicted players, but have not yet filed their responses. They have until June 14 to file responses to all three suits.

One suit involving 38 unindicted players was filed in February 2008, and a second suit involving three unindicted players was filed in December 2007. The wrongly indicted players filed their suit against Durham in October 2007. A federal judge allowed the three suits to proceed March 31 after rejecting some claims.

In the filings, Duke defends the sexual assault examination that former Duke University Health System nurse Tara Levicy performed on Mangum. The lawsuits accused Levicy of fabricating evidence and altering her initial examination report in order to support Mangum’s claims and Nifong’s case.

Levicy states in the documents that all claims she made were consistent with her examination of Mangum.

“Levicy specifically denies that she ever provided false or misleading information to any investigators working for the Durham Police Department or for the District Attorney’s office or to anyone else,” one filing reads.

But KC Johnson, a history professor at Brooklyn College and City University of New York Graduate Center who blogs about the lacrosse case, says Levicy’s claims in the filings are not credible.

“Her story shifted over time, and it shifted over time in ways that did not reflect what was in her report,” he said.

He pointed out that a report issued by North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said there was no medical evidence to confirm Mangum’s account that she was raped. Cooper’s report was issued shortly after he declared that the three wrongly indicted players were innocent in April 2007.

“The [nurse] based her opinion... largely on the accusing witnesses’ demeanor and complaints of pain rather than on objective evidence,” Cooper’s report stated.

In the filings, Duke lawyers wrote that they could not discuss details of Mangum’s medical information because of privacy laws.

Duke’s responses show that some University officials had doubts about Mangum’s claims almost immediately after she reported them. A day after Mangum reported being raped, former Duke Police Chief Robert Dean told Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek that Mangum “was not credible and that the allegations would likely go away.”

In the documents, Wasiolek and several other Duke officials also denied claims that they encouraged the players to discuss the situation with them by promising that they would not discuss the conversation with Durham police. Wasiolek, President Richard Brodhead and Executive Vice President Tallman Trask admitted to meeting with some team members but denied making promises of confidentiality. They also said they did not discuss those meetings with Durham police.

Duke officials also denied that they did anything wrong in their disclosure of some players’ DukeCard swipe records to Durham police. The players claimed that the University turned over the information improperly and then misled the players about the disclosure.

The University admitted that Duke police Sgt. Gary Smith gave the DukeCard records to Durham police Sgt. Mark Gottlieb March 31, 2006. Different Duke officials later received a subpoena for the records and notified the players. But those officials, including former DukeCard office head Matthew Drummond, were unaware that Smith had previously provided those records, the filing states.


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