I assume that you have all followed closely the ethics trial of Durham District Attorney Michael B. Nifong. As you know, the disciplinary panel voted unanimously to disbar Mr. Nifong for his actions in the Duke lacrosse case. The panel concluded that there could be “no discipline short of disbarment that would be appropriate in this case given the magnitude of the offenses we have found and the effect on the profession and the public.” Lane Williamson, the chairman of the panel characterized this case as a “fiasco.”
The panel echoed the April conclusion of Attorney General Roy Cooper in acknowledging the “actual innocence of the defendants.” Yet three young men were indicted, and they remained under indictment for almost a year, despite overwhelming evidence that they were innocent—indeed, evidence that in fact no crime had occurred.
The disbarment of Mr. Nifong represents only the first step in the search for justice.
Mr. Nifong could not have carried out this “fiasco” without help from others, including his investigator and others in his office and, most importantly, officers in the DPD. This prosecution was almost certainly a deliberate frame of three young men for a crime that Nifong and the DPD knew had never occurred.
The claim that the DPD was conducting a “good investigation” before Nifong became involved on March 24 is demonstrably false.
The DPD investigation violated departmental guidelines and procedures. Virtually every step of this investigation was deeply flawed. The DPD repeatedly failed to interview witnesses, investigate available evidence, re-interview witnesses when their statements were contradicted by evidence, and, most importantly, make any attempt to reconcile the many versions of the accuser’s story or to challenge her when her accusation was contradicted by all other evidence. The DPD ignored, avoided and ultimately hid exculpatory evidence. They allegedly attempted to create evidence by filing inaccurate affidavits and reports and intimidating and influencing witnesses. Members of the DPD apparently violated policy with their inflammatory public statements, the method in which they conducted lineups, and their failure to maintain a contemporaneous record of their activities.
During the ethics hearing, Investigator Benjamin Himan admitted under oath that he testified before a grand jury and obtained indictments with no evidence to support the accusation—he asked “with what?” in conversations with superiors. Yet, these superiors endorsed Nifong’s decision to ask for indictments. Himan also admitted under oath that Sergeant Mark Gottlieb prepared affidavits (signed by Himan) in connection with search warrants and the non-testimonial order based on false information.
Attorney General Cooper announced in April that there was “no credible evidence” to support the accusation. Yet, in January, after Nifong’s agreement to hide exculpatory evidence had triggered the Bar complaint and his recusal, DPD Deputy Police Chief Ronald Hodge expressed the view that the case would move forward and proceed to trial. I paraphrase Himan: With what?
In May, in an attempt to salvage his widely discredited report, Chalmers made the incredible claim that “at the time we did go to the grand jury, Mangum’s accounts were consistent.”
The committee you have commission to review the actions of the DPD in connection with this “fiasco” must have the clear mandate and expertise to determine whether Nifong and others committed crimes in connection with this prosecution. Without that mandate and expertise, justice will not be served.
I remind you again of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
I implore you to rise to this challenge and ask merely that you stand with justice.