Published May 09, 2006
DURHAM, N.C. – Duke's response to rape allegations involving members of the men's lacrosse team was too slow and relied too heavily on secondhand information, a report commissioned by the university has found.
That included assertions by Durham police that the accuser "kept changing her story and was not credible," the report released Monday said. Relying on such opinion, the report said, was a mistake.
The day after the March 13 team party at which a 27-year-old black woman claimed she was raped, Durham police told campus officers that "this will blow over," the report said. The woman initially told police she was raped by 20 white men, then said she was attacked by three, the report said.
Police told Duke officers that if any charges were filed, "they would be no more than misdemeanors," the report said.
But more than a month after the party, a grand jury indicted two team members on charges of rape, kidnapping and sexual assault. District Attorney Mike Nifong has said he hopes to charge a third person.
The rape allegations also led the school to cancel the highly ranked lacrosse team's season and accept the resignation of coach Mike Pressler.
The report — commissioned by Duke's president and prepared by two former heads of universities — does not say who at the Durham Police Department cast doubt on the accuser's complaint, but said taking those comments at face value and allowing them to shape Duke's thinking "was a major mistake."
Nifong and Durham police spokeswoman Kammie Michael declined to comment on the report.
At a hospital hours after the party, a female Duke police officer tried to calm and reassure the accuser, the report said. The Duke officer said the woman was "crying uncontrollably and visibly shaken ... shaking, crying and upset." That behavior, the report said, "doesn't suggest that the case was likely to just `go away."'
The report also detailed a major failure of communications between police and several members of Duke's administration.
Duke President Richard Brodhead did not learn about the incident for a week, and only then by reading about it in the student newspaper, the report said. When Brodhead sought more information from the school's vice president for student affairs, he was told "the accusations were not credible and were unlikely to amount to anything," the report said.
That was largely what university leaders knew "until a burst of activity on the part of the district attorney and the police and their investigation made us realize that there was potentially a significantly larger story here," Brodhead said.
"There are very different stories on what happened on the night of March 13," he added. "One of those stories, an extremely serious criminal act would have been engaged in. That's something that we can't decide. The courts can decide that and we trust that they will."
Brodhead and others only learned about the racial aspects of the case on March 24 — "a gap in communications that is extraordinary," the report concluded. The report said Duke's response was further limited by its lack of diversity in senior management; Brodhead and his close advisers are almost all white men.
But Brodhead "provided strong, consistent, and effective leadership" once he learned all the facts, the report said.
Defense attorneys have strongly proclaimed the innocence of the team and the two players charged, Reade Seligmann, of Essex Fells, N.J., and Collin Finnerty, of Garden City, N.Y.