Monday, September 11, 2006

Our Collective Voice - A Law Enforcement Perspective

A Law Enforcement Perspective

Is this how the Durham Police Department REALLY investigates a crime?

ABSTRACT: To paraphrase a popular TV show’s opener, the people are protected by two separate but equal entities, the police who investigate crimes and the DAs who prosecute them. Much has been said about the accuser having her day in court, and how this case could only be proven or disproved at trial.

That is actually the reverse of how the American justice system is designed to work. The FIRST step in any trial is the INVESTIGATION of the crime to gather evidence used to prosecute. This evidence is ALSO supposed to establish the FIRST and most important aspect of the crime, “Was there even a crime in the first place?”

This case raises some very serious questions that the people should DEMAND answers to, regarding whether a good and proper investigation was even conducted. Law Enforcement techniques have changed very little since the first formal police. The only real change is the technology used, and that technology only serves to answer the basics.

The basic tenets of any investigation are to answer the age-old questions: WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE and WHY. These are the basic elements of criminal investigations everywhere, and all the additional technology available is supposed to help answering those questions.

It appears that in generally accepted procedures, this investigation was flawed from the very beginning. If the investigation was flawed, the fault should fall directly on the DPD’s internal policies/procedures, and inevitably rest on the shoulders of the chief investigator, Sgt. Mark Gottlieb.

DISCLAIMER: This exposé is based solely on the information available in the media. Thus, the goal of this expose is not to accuse or imply any wrongdoing, because these questions may already have been answered, but the information is not yet available in the public domain.
THE FATEFUL NIGHT: It has been well established that an alleged rape was reported at the Durham Access Center, so let’s start with an excerpt from Sgt. Shelton’s initial report (dated April 9) about the night of the party:

"I cleared from the call. After Officer Barfield had been at Durham Access for a while, he called me and stated the female said she had been raped at 610 N. Buchanan. I told him to take her to Duke Hospital and that I would meet them there. Once at Duke, I spoke to the female, who was now cooperative. She told me that she worked as a stripper and that she had been hired through "Angels Escort Service" to dance with another female at 610 N. Buchanan. She said that she and "Nikki" danced and "put on a show" for the men at the party. She said that they left and got into "Nikki's" car. At that time she said that someone from the party wanted them to come back into the house. She said that "Nikki" wanted to go back inside, but that she did not. She said that she and "Nikki" got into an argument about going back inside. She said at that point some of the guys from the party pulled her from the vehicle and groped her. She told me that no one forced her to have sex. She then mentioned that someone had taken her money. I walked to the parking lot to call the Watch Commander and let him know that she had recanted her rape allegation. Within a few minutes, I was told that she told the SANE doctor that she had been raped. I called the Watch Commander back and told him that she had changed her story back to being raped. I returned to the room where she was and asked her if she had or had not been raped. She told me she did not want to talk to me anymore and then started crying and saying something about them dragging her into the bathroom. I spoke with a Duke Police Lieutenant who had one of their officers go by the house to see if they could determine who lived at the house and confirm that the resident(s) was a student at Duke. The Watch Commander told me that C.I.D. had been notified. I left the hospital at that time. Duke Police still had not advised me if the resident of the house was a student."
This report is from the responding officer (an officer of the line) and it clearly states that the accuser changed her story, but also that the address of the alleged rape was known, and that C. I. D. HAD been notified.

It must be noted that an initial responding officer is NOT an "investigator" by title or job description, and his/her primary role is to make an initial assessment and if deemed valid, to move immediately to secure the scene for the investigators and CSI team. This is done to hopefully capture a perpetrator and to preserve evidence.
One of the most basic tenets of effective investigation is that SPEED is of the essence not only to possibly catch the alleged perpetrator, but also to preserve the evidence of a crime. We also know it took some 30 odd HOURS for a team to go the alleged crime scene. This forces a few questions and demands answers.
  • WHY was a unit NOT dispatched IMMEDIATELY to the scene to secure it?
  • WHY was a judge not called (awakened if necessary) to immediately obtain a search warrant? (a verbal warrant would work).

It cannot be argued that the address was unknown. Does this mean that the DPD is so understaffed that they had no units to spare? Do they not have judges on call?

The one reasonable conclusion that could be reached:

  • For this basic tenet to be ignored, the accuser's alternating and conflicting versions of events could have been determined immediately to be not credible.
THE DAYS FOLLOWING: We know from the August 31 motion that Sgt. Gottlieb became the OIC of the investigation on March 16. It has been reported that the team captains were interviewed, and a CSI team went through the house. It has also been reported that the captains discussed with the police who else attended the party.
Let us examine what was NOT done.

Sgt. Gottlieb has every authority (not to mention this is his job, duty and basic police work 100) to interview EVERYONE as a potential suspect or material witness to gather evidence in a criminal investigation. This was apparently never done. This also forces questions and demands answers.
  • WHY were all the attending players NOT interviewed?
  • Why were potential alibis not investigated?

Much has been said about the players “lawyering up”, but that does not prohibit an investigator from questioning them in the presence of their lawyers when he goes through proper channels, and it also does not prohibit the investigator from investigating potential alibis. There is no record of the team refusing any interview that was PROPERLY requested, and it’s CERTAIN that Seligmann’s lawyer OFFERED his alibi - why wasn’t at least Seligmann’s alibi looked into?

  • WHY weren’t the accuser’s various accounts looked into? (especially considering the accuser made conflicting claims involving Kim Roberts not only as a thief of accuser’s stuff, an accomplice to the alleged assault, but also as a victim being forcibly held by 3 different people).

There is yet another paradox to discuss. It has been reported that Matt Zash (whose DNA was found in the bathroom) was not charged because he was "cleared." This tells me that in order for Matt to be "cleared", SOMEONE had to look into “something” and determine Matt was not a suspect. WHO did this and WHY was not EVERYONE looked into to "clear" them? (or for that matter, to charge them).

Kim’s statement: We see her statement, but WHERE are the questions she was ASKED, and her ANSWERS? (that’s a PART of the interrogation process).

Accuser’s statement: same as above (certainly an INVESTIGATOR would KNOW he needed to VERIFY the alleged victim’s statement, so he would know WHERE, WHO and WHAT to look for).

Those questions are very important and a part of every investigator’s job. It’s not rocket science to round up all potential suspects (initially, the entire team was “suspect”) and question them on their accounts of the event, their locations, alibis, and then start piecing together a timeline of events, as well as focusing on/culling the suspect pool. There is NO indication this was even ATTEMPTED, much less conducted with any degree of substance. I have to ask, does the DPD generally, and Sgt. Gottlieb specifically, just sit at the coffee pot and wait for witnesses and criminals to turn themselves in? Do they not understand the concept of an INVESTIGATION and how to conduct one?

Much also has been said about DA Mike Nifong “taking charge” of this investigation. I have a few comments on that also. First, Law Enforcement and a Prosecutor are two entirely DIFFERENT and SEPARATE entities. DA Nifong has NO place in the LE “chain-of-command”, and has no positional authority to “take charge” of anything. How did this happen? If it did, it HAD to have come from uptown. WHO gave Nifong this authority and WHY? Even more important, when Sgt. Gottlieb was “instructed” to violate DPD’s procedure regarding the line up (s), WHY such a “professional” and “experienced” officer did not report to his superiors in DPD? The reason that Sgt. Gottlieb agreed to conduct such an obviously flawed procedure is yet another point to be pondered.

THE INVESTIGATING OFFICER: There has been a lot of speculation in the media and blogs regarding how the 2 pages of handwritten notes somehow “morphed” into a 33 single-spaced typed page report, and why it took so long for it to be revealed. I wonder if Sgt. Gottlieb gets his paper from the same person that Jack got his beanstalk beans from. I know that when I was in the field, an officer had a notepad as standard equipment, and wrote notes about every detail of the investigation.

In general terms, investigators do this:

  1. The investigators take notes regarding every session (be they written, recorded or mixture of both) and in many instances write the questions beforehand, and post the answers. This also allows for the “open” questions where the person is allowed to just state forth, leading to probing and/or additional questions. I have had more than 12 pages from a single interview- much less an entire case.
  2. The investigators (who normally have more than 1 case assigned at a time) set aside “office time” to put the notes in whatever the department’s standard reporting format is, and its considered a “living” document until officially closed.

I cannot accept that there was no “running” master case report sitting on a hard drive somewhere ready on demand. While I have never heard of a “set time” to update this running master, it’s always been understood the report had to be READY when it was REQUESTED. (Every investigator knows that when a DA wants the report- you stop and prepare it, mark it as complete, continuing, interim or whatever and give the DA what you have up to that point). I can only conclude one of two things here. Either the DPD has an investigative protocol unique to itself and not practiced anywhere else on Earth, or this report was DELIBERATELY hidden. (I can’t think of a third answer here).

Conclusions: Based on what has been revealed by the media, the “questionable” investigative practices of the DPD and Sgt. Gottlieb specifically call for a formal investigation and if warranted, criminal and civil penalty. Regardless of one’s perception of this case, one thing is clear. This “investigation” is either the model of professional incompetence, or criminally tainted.

If this was not the fantastical Hoax it appears to be (based to the evidence revealed in discovery), and if the accuser was actually assaulted, the accuser’s and public’s chances for justice and protection from 3 alleged attackers would have been diminished by what can only be described as a “comedy of errors performed by a parade of fools with Sgt. Gottlieb as the Grand Marshall.” By all appearances, the accuser seems to have concocted a false story for whatever reason she did, and an entire University, a whole team of innocent players and 3 citizens of the United States (who have protected rights under the Constitution) have suffered most of all. The conduct of this investigation, investigative team and its leader Sgt. Gottlieb MUST be held accountable regardless of the outcome of this case.

Submitted by Longtabber

Our Collective Voice is a recurring feature at LieStoppers that allows our readers to add their voice to ours by submitting their own thoughts and opinions for publication. To submit an item for consideration as an Our Collective Voice article, please send to


Anonymous said...

Congratualations, Longtabber. This is an excellent article.
Texas Mom

Anonymous said...

Thanks Longtabber, certainly quite a few things about the investigation (lack of!) to consider in this case.

Another thought on that subject is how long it took the LE to get back to the neighbor that had called them.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Longtabber for your insight and thanks to LieStoppers for providing this forum.

Fiat Lux (Latin, "Let There Be Light")

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Longtabber. This is an interesting article.

Anonymous said...

A wonderful article Longtabber. Congratulations!

So much gone/done wrong in this case. I appreciate your perspective and as always, appreiate Listoppers for the excellent blog on this case.

Anonymous said...

This is the worst article ever written.

Anonymous said...

I see Nifong or Gottlieb must be reading Liestoppers by the above remark! LOL

Anonymous said...

Got to be Nifong. He admitted he reads the blogs.

Anonymous said...

Way to go Longtabber! You batted one out of the park on this one.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Longtabber for a PD perspective on this case! Very nicely done.

Anonymous said...

Outstanding, LT!

Anonymous said...

Terrific article, LT.

I loved your point about 'where are the questions?' No questions ever seem to be asked of these witnesses.


Anonymous said...

So interesting to see the LE's perspective into this "investigation."