Durham, N.C., police immediately raised doubts about a woman's claims that she was raped by Duke men's lacrosse players in March, and the university allowed those doubts to affect the way it initially treated the case, a new report says.
On the day after the woman was allegedly sexually assaulted, the university was told by Durham police that she "kept changing her story and was not credible," according to the report released yesterday on Duke's handling of the case.
One inconsistency was that the woman initially told authorities "that she was raped and sexually assaulted by approximately 20 white members of a Duke team," the report said. It said the charge was later "modified" to allege that the attack was by three men in a bathroom.
The report, requested by Duke and prepared by civil rights attorney Julius Chambers and former Princeton University president William G. Bowen, faulted the university for taking "at face value" early police statements that the accuser lacked credibility and that the case seemed destined to "blow over."
Chambers and Bowen wrote that several sources indicated that Durham authorities told campus police on the day after the alleged rape that "if any charges were brought, they would be no more than misdemeanors."
Some at the university, the report suggested, might have been lulled into a sense of complacency.
"The Duke administration was much too slow in understanding and addressing the serious and highly sensitive issues raised by the rape allegations and associated events," the report said.
Two Duke players have been indicted in the case, in which a 27-year-old student at nearby North Carolina Central University alleges she was raped at a house rented by three Duke lacrosse team co-captains. She and another stripper had been hired to perform at a March 13 party at the house near the campus.
Last month, Duke commissioned a series of reports - including the one unveiled yesterday - because it said it wanted an independent look at issues raised by the case.
Duke president Richard Brodhead said yesterday that it was too early to say whether the lacrosse team will be permitted to play next season. "DNA evidence is still at the lab; there's still talk of further indictments," he said. Initial DNA tests found no evidence to support the woman's claims, but the district attorney said more results were coming.
The case has racial undertones because the woman is black and all but one of the lacrosse team members are white. But yesterday's report said it took top Duke officials more than 10 days to grasp the case's "racial aspects."
When Duke police director Robert Dean told assistant vice president of student affairs and dean of students Sue Wasiolek by telephone about the incident on March 14, he didn't mention that the woman was African-American, the report said.
It said Duke police also failed to communicate information to the administration about a 911 phone call in which a woman reported racial slurs coming from the house on the edge of campus where the party occurred.
Brodhead didn't learn about the alleged sexual assault until March 20, the report said. It said he called university vice president Larry Moneta, who told him "that the accusations were not credible and were unlikely to amount to anything."
A footnote to the report said administration officials "might possibly have reacted differently" had they known that a female Duke police officer reported that the accuser was "crying uncontrollably and visibly shaken ... shaking, crying and upset" while being treated at a hospital after the party. The report said such behavior "doesn't suggest that the case was likely to just `go away.'"
Chambers indicated yesterday that he was troubled that the rape accuser's story seemed to be dismissed by many people early on.
"I think it pointed out the need for being more careful in reviewing complaints when they come from women, when they come from minorities or others," he said in a conference call with the media. "You don't just discount that complaint because of who made it."
Durham police spokeswoman Kammie Michael could not be reached for comment yesterday after business hours.
Chambers is a former chancellor of North Carolina Central and was a longtime director counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
While criticizing Duke's delay in addressing the case, the report said there was no evidence "this delay represented any effort to cover up the problems revealed by these events, to deceive anyone, or to play down the seriousness of the issues raised."