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Saturday, April 15th 2006

Durham Police Go Fishing

The Durham police have been accused by defense attorneys of resorting to some shady practices to gather some last minute evidence before DA Nifong goes before a grand jury on Monday.

In case you haven’t been keeping up an exotic dancer alleged she was raped and degraded as an African American by white members of Duke’s highly ranked lacrosse team at a party. The lacrosse season was canceled and the coach lost his job. Here is Talk Left summarizing the rape allegations and subsequent situation, albeit with a lot of Op/Ed thrown in.

With the next grand jury date next Monday, the Durham police apparently have stepped up their efforts to give the Durham District Attorney more than the accusers’ statement to hang his hat on.

First, despite all members of the lacrosse team having already lawyered up the Durham police go to dorms and try to interview Duke lacrosse players without notifying their attorneys.

The players contacted their lawyers, who advised them not to answer the questions, said Kerry Sutton, an attorney for one of the lacrosse team captains.

“They didn’t ask to search the rooms; they wanted to ask some questions,” Sutton said. “After the guys in question said, ‘No, thank you,’ the officers went away.”

She called the attempted interviews, conducted late in the investigation and without attorneys present, “another poor choice by the investigation team.”

Second, the Durham police are being accused of running an email sting to get the players to incriminate themselves. I’m not sure there’s anything wrong with such an deceptive attempt, but if they’re going to such lengths it does raise questions about the current strength of their case. The case certainly became weaker after the DNA evidence came back and didn’t implicate any of the lacrosse players.

The explosive allegations stem from an e-mail message sent in the last few days to several players from the e-mail address of another player, stating he was going to tell the police a crime occurred and implicate key players. The player denies he sent it

“The police said (the new e-mail) came from a confidential informant, but we have reason to believe it came from the police, hoping it would make all the players nervous,” says one defense lawyer.

In another blow to the prosecution, the radio recordings of the police band were released to the AP and show the condition of the alleged victim at the time she made the rape allegations.

A woman who claims she was sexually assaulted by members of Duke University’s lacrosse team was described as “just passed-out drunk” by one of the first police officers to see her, according to a recording of radio traffic released by Durham police on Thursday and obtained by The Associated Press.

The conversation between the officer and a police dispatcher took place about 1:30 a.m. March 14, about five minutes after a grocery store security guard called 911 to report a woman in the parking lot who would not get out of someone else’s car.

The officer gave the dispatcher the police code for an intoxicated person and said the woman was unconscious. When asked whether she needed medical help, the officer said: “She’s breathing and appears to be fine. She’s not in distress. She’s just passed-out drunk.”