A North Carolina congressman has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong's handling of the Duke lacrosse case.
In a Dec. 7 letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones said Nifong might have engaged in prosecutorial misconduct and violated the civil rights of the three lacrosse players charged with raping an escort service dancer hired to dance at a team party in March.
The players have said they are innocent and that the accusations are lies. Three former players, Dave Evans, 23, of Bethesda, Md.; Collin Finnerty, 20, of Garden City, N.Y.; and Reade Seligmann, 20, of Essex Fells, N.J., are charged with rape, kidnapping and sexual offense.
Nifong has come under intense criticism for his handling of the case. Jones, a Farmville Republican, said he is concerned that Nifong directed the Durham Police Department to conduct a photo identification procedure that violated the department's guidelines. Police policy requires that each photo of a suspect be accompanied by five photos of people unconnected to the case in order to eliminate doubt that the accuser picks the correct person.
Durham police told the accuser she would view only photos of lacrosse players at the party.
"By doing so, Mr. Nifong ensured that the accuser could not make a mistake no matter who she identified because she would inevitably identify Duke athletes," Jones wrote.
Jones also complained that Nifong's numerous public statements in the early stages of the case prejudiced the community against the players.
"Mr. Nifong's statements ranged from labeling the Duke players 'hooligans' to falsely stating that they refused to cooperate with his investigation," Jones said.
Jones' letter apparently came in response to a letter from an attorney for Finnerty. Michael Cornacchia of New York City had written to federal officials, senators and congressional representatives, including the entire North Carolina delegation, asking them to support a federal investigation into Nifong's actions.
Nifong declined to comment.
Jones, a Christian conservative, is best known for his evolving stance on the Iraq war. In 2003, Jones had french fries renamed "freedom fries" in U.S. House cafeterias because of France's opposition to the U.S-led invasion of Iraq. Last year, Jones co-sponsored a bill calling for a timed withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Jones has said his reversal in part resulted from writing condolence cards to the family of every service member killed in Iraq.
In an interview Tuesday, Jones said he was not taking a stand on the guilt or innocence of the three indicted men but on whether Nifong had treated them fairly.
"When you see all the statements by the DA who was running for election, I am asking, were the constitutional rights of these students protected?" Jones said. "I sincerely believe that these three young men, if the court decides they were not guilty of any of these charges, their reputations will have been damaged for the rest of their lives," Jones said.
Staff writer Joseph Neff can be reached at 829-4516 or firstname.lastname@example.org.