DURHAM, N.C. – The city of Durham expressed regret Friday for the photo lineup used to obtain rape indictments against three members of the Duke lacrosse team, acknowledging that police failed to follow established procedures.
But city manager Patrick Baker said the lineup was never intended to identify suspects in the case, which finally collapsed last month when state prosecutors declared the three players innocent.
Instead, Baker said investigators were trying to identify any witnesses to the alleged attack after the accuser, who had told police she was raped at a lacrosse team party where she was hired to perform as a stripper, had failed to identify her attackers during six previous identification efforts.
"These photo identifications appear to the strongest incriminating evidence against these young men," Baker wrote.
"It is not lost on the Police Department that regardless of our intentions, the April 4 photo process created the opportunity for the false allegations to be specifically linked to Evans, Seligmann and Finnerty and further played a critical role in the decision by the Durham District Attorney to seek and ultimately obtain indictments of these individuals."
The April lineup only included pictures of lacrosse team members, leading defense attorneys to complain it was "unnecessarily suggestive."
In his report, Baker also pointed to the fractured relationship between the defense and Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong as the reason it took more than a year for authorities to conclude the accuser's allegations were unfounded. The relationship, he said, "was not conducive to an efficient and thorough review of the facts of this case."
Before Nifong asked the state Attorney General's office to take over the case late last year, the players' defense attorneys routinely complained the veteran prosecutor was unwilling to consider evidence they said proved their clients were innocent. Baker said the defense made no such offer to police.
"As such, the opportunities for a free flowing exchange of vital information and evidence that may have established earlier on in the process that the allegations were unfounded were missed," Baker said.
Nifong was unavailable for comment Friday afternoon because he was on vacation, his assistant Candy Clark said. But his attorney, David Freedman, said, "I don't read this report to be critical of Mr. Nifong."
Next month, Nifong will stand trial on ethics charges filed by the North Carolina State Bar tied to his handling of the lacrosse case that could lead to his removal from the bar. Among other things, the bar has accused him of trying to withhold potentially exculpatory DNA evidence from the defense.