In her opening statement to the Disciplinary Hearing Committee of the North Carolina State Bar, prosecutor Katherine Jean began Mike Nifong’s ethics trial with the revelation that the rogue District Attorney, motivated by his flailing election campaign, initiated his self-serving public assault on the entire Duke University lacrosse team, and belligerently pressed forward with the State’s false prosecution of three innocent players for a crime that never occurred, despite having prior knowledge of evidence which suggested that the contradictory accusations made by Crystal Mangum were as fraudulent as they appeared to DPD Sergeant John Shelton when the false accuser first uttered her fantastic lies.
North Carolina State Bar prosecutor Jean opened her arguments with the following statements:
In March of 2006, Michael Nifong was the appointed District Attorney of Durham. He was engaged in a contentious political campaign to keep his office. On Friday, March the 24th, Mr. Nifong learned for the first time that an African American exotic dancer had alleged that she was raped by three white men at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd in Durham. That is a house that was rented by three team captains of the Duke lacrosse team.While Katherine Jean points to Nifong’s March 27 briefing with DPD Sgt. Mark Gottlieb and Investigator Ben Himan as the source of his initial understanding of the falsity of the allegations he hijacked for his desperate campaign to keep Freda Black from taking his office, it appears likely that some of Nifong’s initial information on the fraudulent nature of Ms. Mangum’s claims came not only from his willing accomplices in the Durham Police Department but also from his own assistant Sheila Eason whose husband was one of the Duke police officers to first respond to Duke University Medical Center the night of the non-event before visiting the home of the Duke lacrosse team captains to follow up.
By the time Mr. Nifong learned about this allegation, the Durham police department working with Mr. Nifong’s office had obtained non-testimonial identification orders from the court requiring that all 46 Caucasian members of the Duke lacrosse team provide DNA samples and be photographed for identification purposes.
When Mr. Nifong saw that this case existed, he immediately recognized that this case would likely garner significant media attention and decided to handle it himself instead of having the case handled by the assistant in his office who would ordinarily handle such cases.
Mr. Nifong called the Durham Police Department, notified the Durham Police Department he would be handling the case himself, and instructed the Durham Police Department to go thru him for any directions on the factual investigation of the case. Mr. Nifong also made an appointment to meet with Investigator Himan and Sgt. Gottlieb of the Durham Police Department on the following Monday. So he learned about this on Friday the 24th and had a meeting the following Monday with the Police Department.
At that meeting he was briefed by Investigator Himan and Sgt. Gottlieb. And, he learned a lot about the case. He learned that the accusing party, Crystal Mangum, had given a number of different versions of what happened on this night and had in fact twice recanted and said that no rape occurred at all. She had alleged variously that she had been assaulted by three or five or twenty men. Mr. Nifong learned that the other exotic dancer who was present at the party called the entire story a crock. He learned that the three team captains of the Duke lacrosse team who lived in the house were this allegedly happened had voluntarily provided DNA samples for comparison purposes, had voluntarily given statements to the police, and had cooperated fully when the police executed a search warrant at the house. And, he learned that those three team captains denied entirely Ms. Mangum’s allegations.
Mr. Nifong did not review all of the evidence that was available. He reviewed some of the evidence that was available.
And, he left that briefing and proceeded on a series of television and newspaper interviews, appeared on television, appeared on local television, appeared on national television, and said a number of things about this case…And in these interviews, he said the lacrosse players are not cooperating with the investigation…he detailed Ms. Mangum’s allegations on national television repeatedly as if they were established facts. He expressed his personal belief in the truth of Ms. Mangum’s allegations. He went on national television and demonstrated the choke hold that the lacrosse player who allegedly assaulted her had allegedly put on her neck, [he] described how she struggled to breathe during the alleged attack…He stated that the guilty will stand trial and there’s no doubt a sexual assault took place…He called the perpetrators hooligans. He characterized the alleged crime as abhorrent, reprehensible, and absolutely unconscionable… He said this was the worst thing that had happened in Durham since he became the District Attorney. He compared it to a quadruple homicide and to multiple cross burnings…
In his report date March 14, 2006, Duke University Police office Christopher Day confirms the participation of Eason's husband. Day wrote:
Lt. Best stayed at the Emergency Department to gather information from the victim with Durham Police. PO Eason, PO Robertson and I went to 610 N. Buchanan Street to follow up... The victim changed her story several times, and eventually Durham Police stated that charges would not exceed misdemeanor simple assault against the occupants of 610 N. Buchanan.In his State Bar deposition, Mr. Nifong at first expressly denies having prior knowledge of the facts of the case other than the false details presented on the non-testimonial order prior to his March 27, 2006 meeting with Inv. Himan and his supervisor Sgt. Gottlieb.
Brocker: What -- prior to going into the meeting with the two investigators, what did you know? Other than what was in the Non-Testimonial Order, was there anything else that you knew?While his briefing with Inv. Himan and Sgt. Gottlieb began at 10:40AM as noted by Sgt. Gottlieb, email correspondence indicates that Nifong had already instructed his assistant, Sheila Eason to follow up on the information relayed from her husband. At 10:35AM, Mrs. Eason sent an email to her husband’s superior officer, Lt. Jeffrey Best, confirming an earlier request she had made by phone for “any and all details documented in writing concerning the incident involving the alleged gang rape by the Duke Lacrosse Team members of Crystal Mangum.”
Nifong: I don't believe so. I just think what was in the Non-Testimonial order is what I knew when I got to the meeting.
Brocker: Did you have any indication before you walked in that meeting about, beyond what was in the Non-Testimonial Order, what Ms. Mangum had said or alleged
Nifong: No, sir.
Eason, who was recently re-hired by Nifong’s mentor/replacement Jim Hardin (Eason resigned last fall from the DA’s office after apparently being demoted to allow Linwood “The Fixer” Wilson’s promotion from part time check chaser to Chief Investigator), notes that her request is made at the behest of Mr. Nifong and is based on “our understanding that your squad was working the night Ms. Mangum went into the emergency room.”
In her request to Duke police, Mrs. Eason pointedly directs:
“Included in this should be any observations of the victim, whether anyone was with her or brought her to the emergency room and any statements she made to any law enforcement officer. All details, even though they may seem insignificant, may add together to help us with this case.”Click image to view Eason's email:
Despite his earlier denials to State Bar Prosecutor Doug Brocker, Mr. Nifong would later admit to instructing Mrs. Eason to gather reports from Duke police after having received information relayed by her husband. In his admission, however, Mr. Nifong, perhaps conscious of the implications of revealing that he had evidence that the allegations were thought to be false prior to his hijacking of the Hoax, would attempt to revise the timing of his conversations with Mrs. Eason from prior to his “initial” briefing until “maybe the week after.”
Nifong: This is a report from the Duke Police Department, and I know that at some point, probably in the second week, maybe the week after March 27th, I had asked Sheila Eason, who was my assistant--she was in the investigator's position, but was not really an investigator, she was an administrative assistant to Mr. Hardin and I retained her in that position--to obtain the reports from Duke Public Safety because I wanted to see them.In his State Bar deposition, Inv. Benjamin Himan would confirm that Mr. Nifong had prior knowledge of the inconsistencies that belied Ms. Mangum’s accusations prior to the March 27 briefing.
I had heard that there were, you know, reports that the officers, the Durham Police Department officers, hadn't seen. And her husband was associated with the Duke University Police Department, and so I asked her to get them because I knew they had -- and at some point probably that week, I did receive reports from several Duke university police officers.
Brocker: Okay. During the week of March 27th or the week after?
Nifong: The week after.
Brocker: I am going to ask you to look at Exhibit 10 there, which I think is an e-mail that you've already referred to in your testimony. see if you recognize that as the e-mail that Ms. Eason had written on your behalf?
Nifong: I don't know that I ever saw the e-mail, but this would appear to be that.
Brocker:But you had asked her to --
Nifong: I had asked for to do this. Yes, sir.
Brocker:You had said Ms. Eason's -- that Ms. Eason's husband was a member of the Duke Police Department or the --
Nifong: Larry Eason at the time was an officer -- I believe he was an officer with the Durham Police Department. He subsequently left and went back to the Sheriff's Department where he had been before, but he was an officer over there. As a matter of fact, I'm not certain about this, but it may have been that she told me that Larry, who was her husband, had said that they had some reports over there. But at any rate, I asked her to get whatever they had.
Brocker: Can you read the e-mail and just tell me if it's consistent with what you were asking Ms. Eason to do?
Nifong: Well, certainly the part, "Could you please have each member of your squad that has any information about this incident to document same and forward to this office Mr. Nifong's attention." That part of the e-mail is certainly what I said. I don't know what this part about, "At this time we did not have the exact date because the Assistant District Attorney handled this in court." I don't know what that refers to or who that refers to.
Brocker: Let me ask you about a different part of that statement. she just writes down here that, "All details, even though they may seem insignificant, may add together to help us with this case." Is that consistent with what you had talked to her about and wanted her to get all the details the Duke Police Department had?
Nifong: Yes, I would say that it was consistent.
Himan: I don’t know about that initial statement [to Officer Sutton], but her stories that she said at Duke Hospital, I know that is what he brought up, that she had changed her story at Duke Hospital. But those specific statements weren’t actually discussed. He just brought up the statements from that….No, he said it right in the beginning. He said -- he said -- we started talking about some things and he goes, “You know we’re fucked?” And that is when he was asking about the stuff what we had done and what she had said and what was going on.Earlier in his deposition, Himan described the conversation about Mangum’s inability to tell the same the story twice as if the purpose of the “briefing," in part, was perhaps for Sgt. Gottlieb and DA Nifong to not-so-subtlety sell the rookie investigator on overlooking the discrepancies while trusting their greater experience rather than his lying eyes and ears.
Brocker: Okay, So, in addition to his statements about no search warrant being done immediately and not talking to the players, he was also referring to the fact that she had made these inconsistent statements at the hospital?
Himan: Yes. That would have been afterward, yeah, about the -- and I believe, I think he was getting that information from one of his assistants whose husband worked at Duke Police Department…. Sheila Eason, I believe. I think that’s where he was getting some of the information from.
Himan: Mr. Nifong actually brought up the discrepancies, and that’s where they were explaining why it could possibly be some discrepancies.In his State Bar deposition, Sgt. Gottlieb - whose reluctance to take notes, avoidance of signing any of the affidavits he composed or helped to compose, carefully guarded statements, and overt attempt to create the impression that this was “Ben’s investigation” have given the distinct impression of a conscious effort to escape criminal culpability - coyly disputes Himan’s assertion that there was a detailed discussion of, and explanations offered for, the damning inconsistencies offered by Ms. Mangum.
Brocker: What do you recall Mr. Nifong saying in that initial meeting about the discrepancies?
Himan: He just said that, you know, she has made some other stories or there’s other sides of the stories from what she is saying. And that’s when they also started to get into that she could have been possibly drugged and that’s why there’s different allegations. He was asking Gottlieb what his experience in rape cases were, he asked what my experience was in rape cases. He asked how many had gone to trial with Gottlieb. And basically the experience.
Brocker: The two of your’s experience?
Himan: Yeah. Basically. I mean there would be questions brought up and then he would ask Sergeant Gottlieb, “well, how many rape investigations have you done, how many have you gone to trial on?” And basically seeing what Gottlieb’s experience was in rape cases are.
Brocker: What was Sergeant Gottlieb’s response?
Himan: I believe he had done -- he did them for about 23 years, I think he said, and that he done multiple rapes, sexual assault cases. He gave the number, I think, eight (8) that had gone to trial, I believe. And I think he asked me how many rape investigation I had done.
Brocker: And what was your response?
Brocker: Did Mr. Nifong talk specifically about what the inconsistencies were in Ms, Mangum’s statements?
Himan: I believe it was in regarding to her statements of who was actually involved, the number of people.
Brocker: The number of people?
Himan: Yes, her differing stories that she had told in the beginning while she was at the hospital.
Brocker: And did that include -- so the discrepancies that he talked about was the number of people involved. Did he talk about any discrepancies about whether in fact a rape had occurred?
Himan: No, that wasn’t -- that wasn’t brought up.
Brocker: Did Mr. Nifong talk to you about what he had reviewed to become aware that there were inconsistencies in her statements initially?
Himan: I think -- I thought he mentioned the police reports. I don’t know if he had already looked them over, but he knew that there was some discrepancies in her story from the initial -- the initial night that she went to the hospital, and he asked us about those.
Brocker: Do you know whether he had spoken with any other officers who were initially involved before that?
Himan: I don’t know if he did or not. I don’t think he did.
While Sgt. Gottlieb, of course, does not admit to the apparent effort to sell the green investigator on overlooking the inconsistencies in Mangum’s fantastic lies, he does ominously acknowledge the initiation of the purposeful spin that has been put forth by former District Attorney Nifong, City Manager Patrick Baker, and Police Chief Steve Chalmers.
The information that we would have shared with Mr. Nifong was that between the uniformed patrol officer's initial response up to the SANE nurse, things were inconsistent but from the time that she spoke with the SANE nurse all the way up through December, her story didn't really change.As additional information becomes available, the appearance of an intentional, calculated, and cold-blooded effort to prosecute innocent men for crimes that never occurred becomes increasingly obvious. Rather than revisionist history employed to downplay errors and misjudgments, Nifong's actions and Gottlieb's words clarify that the distortion was in place as the hijacking of the Hoax commenced.