DURHAM, N.C. — Duke underestimated the rape allegations against members of its lacrosse team in part because Durham police initially said the accuser "kept changing her story and was not credible," according to a university report issued Monday.
The day after the March 13 team party where a 27-year-old black woman said she was raped, Durham police told campus officers that "this will blow over," the report said. It said the woman initially told police she was raped by 20 white men, then said she was attacked by three.
Police told the Duke officers that if any charges were filed, "they would be no more than misdemeanors," the report said.
Instead, more than a month after the party, a grand jury indicted two members of the highly ranked lacrosse team on charges of rape, kidnapping and sexual assault. Dist. Atty. Mike Nifong has said he hopes to charge a third person.
The report was commissioned by the Duke president and prepared by Julius Chambers, a former chancellor at North Carolina Central University, where the accuser is a student, and William G. Bowen, a former president of Princeton University who is now head of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Their report does not say who at the Durham Police Department cast doubt on the accuser's complaint. But, it said, allowing those comments to shape Duke's thinking "was a major mistake."
Defense attorneys have asked the court to consider the woman's reliability, saying she previously made an allegation of rape that did not lead to any charges.
"The changing of the allegations is entirely consistent with our investigation into her background and our knowledge of the case," said attorney Kirk Osborn, who represents Reade Seligmann, one of the two players charged.
After reviewing a copy of the report, Nifong declined to comment. Durham police spokeswoman Kammie Michael also declined to comment.
The report did say a female Duke police officer tried to calm and reassure the accuser at the hospital where she was taken by police hours after the party. The woman, the Duke officer said, was "crying uncontrollably and visibly shaken ... shaking, crying and upset." That behavior, the report said, "doesn't suggest that the case was likely to just 'go away.' "
The statements about the accuser's credibility were part of a major failure of communications between police and several members of Duke's administration, the report said.