Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Listservers of Durham, the Durham PD, and how they promoted the Hoax

What is a Listserver?

It is an electronic mailing list, which uses email and/or social media websites such a Yahoo, Google, or MSN groups for widespread distribution of information to selected Internet users. It is similar to a mailing list kept by an organization for sending information to its members or customers. It differs in that what is posted is sent to all members of the list through a centralized internet account and individual members messages are posted for all to see. These lists are formed around a central topic, whether it is a neighborhood, a hobby like cooking, or political issues. There are tens of thousands of these available to Internet users. In some respect it’s a big chat room for a group which is usually led by a group of dedicated posters with many members just reading the posts.

From Wall of Silence to Community Uproar

In our earlier article “From Wall of Silence to Community Uproar” we reported on the role that the Trinity Park Listserver played in spreading the misinformation that the players were hiding behind a “Wall of Silence” and that evidence existed that crime had been committed. Over those first few weeks these two falsehoods were spread against the 2006 Duke Lacrosse Team. It contributed to an atmosphere of prejudgment against the Team.

Since that article we have searched through Durham’s Listservers. Our efforts were to examine whether these Listservers were used by members of the Police Department, Duke University, and individuals to incite the community against the innocent members of the Duke Lacrosse Team. We also wanted to see the extant of these messages and just who was sending them.

Our conclusions were the Durham PD played a much larger role in providing a forum then we ever imagined.

On the Durham Listservers the Hoax became an event for activism and self-interest along with serious concerns the allegations were true. It quickly becomes apparent in reading the posts that for many it wasn’t about whether a crime was committed. It was just assumed it was by far too many. Posters were quick to post any and all negative media stories no matter the credibility. They also gave personal opinions and agendas took over. It became an issue for personal animosity against Duke and their students, merged with complaints about students partying, and mantras of race-gender-class being affirmed. This was best summed up by a student at the time

“It seems as if some protesters of the situation surrounding the Duke lacrosse team are concerned primarily with obtaining "concessions" from the Duke administration and advancing a radical social agenda.” Duke News Sense

How this Information was obtained

This series was compiled from the record of Internet posts. Information which was sent from 2003 through 2007. It was posted freely & openly and indeed that was the problem. We asked to join these listservers and were given access to the group’s messages. In some cases it is open for everyone upon an Internet search.

We were shocked by the magnitude of the dissemination of this false information against the 2006 Duke Lacrosse Team during that period.

More than two thousand Durham residents received these postings in their in-boxes and/or users groups. It had deleterious effects on the presumption of innocence we are all entitled under our justice system.

We have deliberately left off the identity of private citizens and their posts except for two messages whose identities are not revealed. One of the first, which was a response to the initial post of the DPD, and the other one of the last after AG Cooper’s declaration of Innocent. It has always been our suspicion these events were orchestrated by members of the DPD and DA’s Office, they didn’t just happen. Private Citizens and Moderators were foolishly reacting to what their opinion leaders in Durham and at Duke were saying, and what the DA & PD were leaking to the local media. Few of the 2200 members of the recipients of the Police message ever post, for most it is a source of information with a limited number of actual posters. Some private posters may have been maliciously trying to foment trouble but that is a judgment we can’t make. They know there true intentions. Most important were the posts of Durham’s Police Department and that is what we concentrated on. We only listed those from active members of the DPD at that time.

What is clear is that Duke University, Durham PD, and the DAs Office failure to communicate honestly what they knew and in some cases their willful misinformation created the upset on the listservers. Posters were initially angry at Duke for not suspending the players for not talking. A charge they didn’t know was false as the Captains had willingly co-operated. They had no idea why the defense attorneys had rightfully told their clients, “they smelled a rat.”

Whatever private citizens were reacting to, does not lessen what individuals did to contribute to this travesty. Some of those posts were offensive, bigoted, and misguided. A few posters warned their fellow members to stop the rush to judgment, but in what became the hallmark of the Hoax in Durham and at Duke, the 2006 Duke Lacrosse Team was guilty Until Proven Innocent as KC & Stuart’s book title aptly states.

Our focus remains on those officials in positions of power who misuse their authority and public trust and those that were providing this forum. This information is still available to the user groups members. What is ironic is this false information was spread by use of the Internet and in the end it provides a record of itself, something we doubt the Hoaxsters really understood at the time.

Durham is a wired community

Durham has many listservers dedicated to individual neighborhoods. Most of those are concerned with local affairs; a missing cat, yard sale, extra concert tickets, notification of events, betterment of their neighborhood, and dissemination of Neighborhood Association minutes. All pretty mundane stuff only of interest to locals. They serve a valuable purpose of neighborhood identity and pride.

At times, some of these listservers become venue of debate for political issues, especially relating to the Duke University, City Hall, and Crime. Durham’s Affairs are dominated by Duke with it’s over half of its 40,000 employees living in Durham. Many of the posters work at Duke or work with Duke Medical Center and it’s impossible not to be effected by those institutions in some matter. Group Moderators, to varying degrees, try to “moderate” posters from taking over the boards with personal agendas and act as censors at times warning posters. For the most part they are successful. However in the spring of 2006 a few moderators failed to rein in posters, and in some cases they were encouraging it by posting themselves and being part of the coverage in the media.

One of the most popular formats used with Listservers in Durham is “Yahoo Groups”.

In Durham there are well over a dozen of these which cover neighborhoods and districts. Duke University is surrounded by neighborhoods and with the wired community each has its own list-server.

Some of these groups are issue oriented such as Durham Responds which was started by Sam Hummel,who was then Duke’s Environmental Sustainability Coordinator. It served as the home of the pot-bangers and coordinated protests for activists at Duke and in Durham. That list has been covered before and we already knew the mindset of those who unfurled the banner of “Castrate!”

Sgt Gottlieb and the Trinity park Listserver

Initially many first learn about the allegations of sexual assault from the Trinity Park Listserver which serves the Trinity Park area where 610 N. Buchanan is located.

On March 17 2006 Sgt Gottlieb sent out this e-mail to the Trinity Park user group which contained just over 600 members at that time. It now has over 1000.

Fri Mar 17, 2006 7:15 am

The Durham Police District 2 Criminal Investigations Violent Crimes Unit is conducting an investigation concerning a rape of a young woman by three males at 610 N. Buchanan that was reported on 3/14/06 in the early morning hours. The female arrived at the residence for a party close to 11:30pm on Monday 3/13/2006 and left on Tuesday 3/14/2006 reportedly after midnight. Anyone in the area who saw or heard anything unusual, please contact Investigator Himan at 919-560-4582 x 229 or I at 560-4582 x 228. Thank you for your continued assistance.

Sgt. M.D. Gottlieb
Durham Police District 2 Investigations

Sgt Gottlieb declared they were investigating a rape at 610 N. Buchanan. What the members of the user group did not know is he did this despite his knowledge that the initial investigator was going to drop the case, the responding officer thought the accuser was lying, and PD had not run the SANE Kit taken at DUMC. In fact it is doubtful he had the actual medical reports from that night. The SANE KIT evidence would later prove no sexual assault happened contrary to the “investigation” of Sgt Gottlieb & Investigator Himan who most likely did not reveal those exculpatory facts to the Grand Juries that indicted the players nor DA Nifong who hide it from the Defense attorneys and the Court for eight months.

Sgt Gottlieb also left off that the residents at 610 N. Buchanan, captains of the Lacrosse team had given statements freely without counsel, offered to take polygraphs, and had given DNA samples. Later we would find out at the Disbarment Hearing of Former, Disbarred, and Disgraced DA Nifong that Dave Evans had given an accurate account of the party. In fact Sgt Gottlieb on March 17 had just finished with those interviews which went late into the early morning. He had the truthful version yet chose to send out an e-mail that a rape had happened. From the start there was no “Wall of Silence” just the withholding of crucial exculpatory evidence from the public.

The post alerted New-Observer's Crime Reporter Samiha Khanna who would later say on a Laxcast broadcast that is how she found out . One TP member responded “.. we expect these disgusting people leave our neighborhood.” The propaganda against the team had begun. It wouldn’t go into full swing until the accusations reached newsprint and TV a week later and be seen in the Castrate sign in front of 610 with chants to “get out of Town!”

The Importance of Pac2 Listserver , DPD, and the Hoax

What we discovered was Trinity Park wasn’t the only user group to which Sgt Gottlieb sent that March 17 message. He also posted it to PAC District 2 which is list from Partners Against Crime. It is a quasi police/community user group. The Durham Police divide Durham into five crime districts and is actively involved in these five yahoo user groups.

Partners Against Crime (PAC2 Listserver)

This is a listserver organized by Durham Police Department District 2 (includes Trinity Park, Trinity Heights, Walltown, Old West Durham,Watts-Hillandale
Duke Student Housing Newsletter

Partners Against Crime Organization from the Durham PD web site

The Partners Against Crime program promotes collaboration among police officers, Durham residents, and city and county government officials to find sustainable solutions to community crime problems and quality of life issues. It is a community based volunteer organization that promotes and executes safety strategies to prevent crime at the neighborhood level. Each of Durham Police Department’s five police districts has a PAC organization that holds monthly PAC meetings. Durham Police Web Site

In particular the Pac2 Listserver serves as the main focal point for crime reporting and discussion around Durham and the neighborhoods around Duke University. It is more than just a listserver.

Working with the Partners Against Crime are two community officers who are resources for a problems that cannot be resolved by calling 911.

The Community Liaison Officer is here to listen to your concerns about your community. This officer will assist you in finding resources to combat the problems that are your concerns. Problems involving recurring illegal activities and unsatisfied interaction with law enforcement.

The Crime Prevention Officer is here to help you organize your community in such way that it becomes harder for crime to persist within the community. Through the Neighborhood Watch Program this Officer will help educate the community at the block level about the best techniques to deter crime and create an active collaboration with the police
. Yahoo Pac2 Web Site

Sgt Gottlieb and other Police community police officers like Cpl David Addison were frequent posters to these lists and promoted themselves as guardians of the community. Addison was spotlighted in a Herald-Sun article by one of the reporters of the Hoax a few months before. In his role of Crimestoppers I/C he was also one of the most prolific posters and had made hundreds of posts (311) reporting on Durham’s criminal matters. Senior Command of the Durham PD did indeed read the list-servers of Durham on a daily basis as witness this post;

25 Aug 2003
I also wish to take a moment to say that I read the PAC 2 list serve daily and use this vehicle to gain valuable insight into the concerns and issues you raise, and to let you know your concerns are heard by the Command Staff and they do have an impact on the decisions and directions of the Durham Police Department.

Lt. John Edward Mozart

Lt Mozart was a Spokesman for the DPD at that time. In 2003 he handled the administration of PAC funds. The DPD funds the five PACs out of a Local Law Enforcement Block Grant. The LLEBG is a federal grant that is given to jurisdictions based on their UCR crimes.

Surely Senior Command Officers of the DPD must have been very aware of the disinformation being spread about 610 investigation.

Soon with reporting of the local media the Durham list-servers would serve as an adjunct to the media to incite the community on a personal basis. Starting March 24 the assault begins.

Next: Pac2 Listserver , Durham PD, and Cpl Addison

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a very informative post.

You've done a fine job seting out the structure and purposes of the listservers and how DPD uses them.

You've obviously done a great deal of work.

I'm looking forward to the rest of this series.

John in Carolina