On Campus

Duke athletes sue university over rape case

Allegations now discredited, students claim that university turned its back on accused players to protect image

More than three dozen current and former Duke lacrosse players claim in a lawsuit they suffered emotional distress during the furor over the now-discredited rape case against three of their teammates.Lawyers planned to file a federal lawsuit Thursday in North Carolina that accuses Duke University, the City of Durham and several school and police officials of fraud, abuse, and breach of duty for supporting the prosecution of the case.

Lead lawyer Chuck Cooper said the private university turned its back on the players to protect the school’s image.

“These young men want an acknowledgment that they were wronged by institutions and individuals that they trusted to treat them honestly,” Cooper said in a statement. “They were victimized by a corrupt investigation that ignored or suppressed evidence that would have cleared them.”

The lawsuit filed on behalf of 38 unindicted players and nine members of their families seeks unspecified damages for invasion of privacy, emotional distress and other injuries. Cooper planned to discuss the lawsuit later Thursday at a news conference in Washington, D.C.

The players accuse Duke of ignoring, suppressing and discrediting evidence that proved the players innocence, with idly standing by while the players suffered abuse and harassment on campus, and with imposing discipline that implied the team was guilty. Duke suspended and then cancelled the highly ranked team’s season in the wake of the rape allegation.

Duke spokesman Keith Lawrence declined to comment until the university had time to review the lawsuit. Durham interim City Attorney Karen Sindelar did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Thursday.

Former Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong won indictments against Dave Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann after a woman accused them of raping her at a team party in March 2006. The case unravelled amid the woman’s changing story and lack of evidence.

The three players were later declared innocent and also have sued the former prosecutor, the City of Durham and the police detectives who handled the case. They reached an undisclosed financial settlement with the university in June.

Nifong was disbarred and spent a night in jail for his handling of the case. Cooper said he is not named in the lawsuit because of his pending declaration of bankruptcy. Nifong is claiming more than US$180 million in liabilities, almost all tied to the prospect of losing two other lawsuits stemming from the rape case.

Three other players filed a lawsuit last year, accusing the school, Nifong and numerous others of a conspiracy that inflicted emotional distress.

-with a report from CP 

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.