Not the sports page anymore – it’s the police blotter
A sexual assault case that brings up uncomfortable recent memories for Los Angeles sports fans will go before a grand jury in North Carolina tomorrow, April 17th. In the past three years L.A. has endured three such rape accusations, against two USC football players and a Lakers basketball star.
Even though all of the above were never found guilty, the charges themselves created considerable disruption and embarrassment to their school and teams, and became a source of racial tension. If the accused Duke University lacrosse players are not indicted by the grand jury, the city of Durham expects a similar unrest to the verdict in the Rodney King case in L.A.
The Duke athletes are caucasian, mostly from upscale towns in New York and New Jersey. Their accuser is a 27-year-old black woman, who works as a call girl to support herself and two children. She was one of two women hired from an “escort service” to strip dance at a team party the night of March 13th for $800.
According to the police investigation, news of which has been coming almost daily for the past month, the women arrived at the back door of a house, rented from Duke University by the three lacrosse team captains, at about 11:50 pm. One of the women (the accuser in this case) was quite drunk, and had cuts and bruises on her legs and face. This was shown by time-stamped photos taken at the party.
What happened in the next hour has not been clearly revealed, but at 12:53 am, a telephone call came in to 911 stating that a man at 610 Buchanan Blvd. (site of the party) had called her and her friend a racial slur. The police showed up two minutes later, but couldn’t find the woman who called 911. The police left at 1:06 am.
At 1:22 am, a security guard at a nearby Kroger grocery calls 911, to complain that there is a woman intoxicated in a car in his parking lot. The police arrive at 1:32 am. When they talk to the woman, she says she was raped at the Buchanan address. She is taken to a hospital where she is swabbed from head to foot for DNA samples.
Next week, the 46 white members of the lacrosse team were required to submit DNA samples to the North Carolina state crime laboratory. The comparison results came back negative on everyone.
The Durham district attorney, Mike Nifong, who is running for re-election May 2nd against two challengers, in this predominantly black city, was quoted as saying, “For most of the years I’ve been doing this, we didn’t have DNA. We had to deal with sexual assault cases the good old-fashioned way. Witnesses got on the stand and told what happen to them.”
Among the revelations coming out of Nifong’s office is that a third of the lacrosse team members have had previous run-ins with the law, including underage drinking, possession of an open container, late night disturbances and urinating in public.
According to a 2002 police report, the accuser gave a taxi driver a lap dance at a Durham strip club, then stole his car and led police on a high speed chase into the next county, where a sheriff deputy said that she tried to run over him. Her blood-alcohol level registered at more than twice the legal limit. She was able to bargain the charges down to a fine and probation.
Since the March 13th incident, Duke University has fired the lacrosse team coach, suspended the rest of the team’s schedule and joined with the mostly black local college, N.C. Central University, where the accuser is a student, in forums and community meetings to try to put a lid on the current racial tension in Durham.
Complicating this effort are campaigns by supporters of both the accuser and the Duke players to win public opinion to their side. One of the largest betting sites on the Internet was taking wagers on how many of the DNA tests would come back positive. Four matches gave odds at 4:1, seven to fifteen matches were listed at 15:1. The wagering was linked under “exotic props.”
Photographs of the accuser have also surfaced showing her returning to the Buchanan house, posing smiling, and lying down on the back porch. At an April 3rd candle light vigil, many speakers condemned the alleged assault. “Nobody deserves to be raped,” shouted Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP.
Protestors handed out flyers with the names and photos of the entire Duke lacrosse team, and taped them to garbage cans in front of the student union.
Next to “immigration” and “dump Bush,” the controversy continues to be the most talked about issue on the nation’s campuses, and will not go away, regardless of tomorrow’s decision by the Durham grand jury.
NEXT – PART TWO – The high rate of sexual assault cases among college athletes