Report: Duke officials were misled by early contact with Durham police

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke underestimated the rape allegations against members of the lacrosse team in part because Durham police initially said the accuser "kept changing her story and was not credible," according to a university report issued Monday.

The day after the March 13 team party where a 27-year-old black woman claimed she was raped, Durham police told campus officers that "this will blow over," the report said. It said that the woman initially told police she was raped by 20 white men, then said she was attacked by three.

Police told the Duke officers that if any charges were filed, "they would be no more than misdemeanors," the report said.

Instead, more than a month after the party, a grand jury indicted two members of the highly ranked lacrosse team on charges of rape, kidnapping and sexual assault. District Attorney Mike Nifong has said he hopes to charge a third person.

The report was commissioned by the Duke president and prepared by Julius Chambers, a former chancellor at North Carolina Central University, where the accuser is a student, and William G. Bowen, a former president of Princeton University who is now head of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Their report does not say who at the Durham Police Department cast doubt on the accuser's complaint. Defense attorneys have asked the court to consider her reliability, saying she previously made allegations of rape that did not lead to any charges.

After reviewing a copy of the report, Nifong declined to comment. Durham police spokeswoman Kammie Michael also declined to comment.

The statements about the accuser's credibility were part of a major failure of communications between police and several members of Duke's administration, the report said.

The report said Duke President Richard Brodhead did not learn about the incident for a week, and only then by reading about it in the student newspaper. When Brodhead sought more information from Larry Moneta, Duke'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.

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