Duke Suspends Lacrosse Team Season Amid Sexual Assault Charges



It started out as a harmless night.  Get a group of jocks together for a late night party, complete with music, alcohol and an exotic dancer or two.  But March 13, was hardly a harmless night according to a woman who says she was raped by three members of the Duke University lacrosse team.


Expecting to dance for five men at a bachelor party, the woman, a mother of two and a student attending North Carolina Central University, and another exotic dancer walked into a house occupied by over 40 men.  The women were pelted with hostility, threats and racial slurs moments into their performance, which took place in the master bedroom of the house.


The two women, both African American, stopped dancing and proceeded to leave.


“We started to cry,” she said.  “We were so scared.”


As they left, the women were then approached by one of the suspects, who apologized and asked that they come back inside, according to the warrant.  The women went back inside the house and were separated.  The victim was then pulled into a bathroom where three men held her down, sexually assaulting and sodomizing her.  The woman told police that she was kicked, hit, strangled and beaten for 30 minutes.  She lost four fingernails as she scratched at one of the men strangling her.


According to the warrant, the victim went to the Kroger grocery store on Hillsborough Road and called police at 1:22 a.m. on March 14th.  Police drove to the house, located at 610 Buchanan Blvd., next to Duke’s East Campus, but no one answered.  They later returned on March 16th with a search warrant where they recovered DNA evidence along with the victim’s belongings, including her makeup bag, a cell phone, identification and four red polished artificial fingernails lost in the victims’ struggle with her attackers.


Police also seized residents’ computers, cell phones and digital cameras, in hopes of finding photos and video footage from the party.


According to a document used to obtain a judge’s order requiring each member of the team to submit to a DNA test, the women were told that the men at the party were members of the baseball or track teams, apparently to hide their identities.


All but one member of the team reported to the Durham police crime lab to be photographed and “provide identifying information,” said John Burness, Duke University senior vice president for public affairs.  The team member who did not report was black and therefore did not match the description of the suspects.


The tests were scheduled to be sent to the State Bureau of Investigation in Raleigh for testing and are trying to have the process expedited by Durham authorities.


Many of Durham’s criminal defense lawyers are calling the DNA search and testing unusual and invasive.  “I can’t imagine a scenario where this would be reasonable to do this so early in the investigation,” said lawyer Alex Charns who believes it would its unusual for so many people to have their DNA taken.  “It seems over-broad and it seems frightening that they’re invading the privacy of so many people.”


The people of Durham think otherwise, questioning why police waited two days to search the house after the rape was reported and criticizing landlords for tolerating an “Animal House” atmosphere.


According to police records, police have been called to the house, which is rented out to three of the lacrosse team captain, four times since September.


Due to conduct at the party, the university forfeited two of its men’s lacrosse games, against Georgetown University and Mount St. Mary’s University and later suspended the team’s season indefinitely.


"In this painful period of uncertainty, it is clear to me, as it was to the players, that it would be inappropriate to resume the normal schedule of play,” said Duke President Richard Brodhead during a news conference.  “Sports have their time and place, but when issues of this gravity are in question, it is not the time to be playing games."


Direct of Athletics Joe Alleva said he was “dismayed” by the party and said that while players denied the woman was sexually assaulted, several have acknowledged hiring women from an escort service to dance at the party and that alcohol was served to underage team members.


“The judgment of the team members to host and participate in this even is inconsistent with the values of Duke Athletics and Duke University and is unacceptable,” said Alleva via a statement post on the university’s website.


The situation has sent the community into an uproar with several protests and rallies taken place on and off campus.  Protesters marched in front of the house banging pots and carrying signs expressing outrage over the leniency taken by the university.  Protesters marched to the home of the Provost Peter Lange where he addressed the group.


“This is an extremely serious crime, if it happened,” Lange said.  “We don’t know the facts of what happened in the house.  We have allegations.  The only people who have the means to discover what happened in that house are the police.”


This isn’t the first time Duke has struggled to bridge the gap between the campus and the community.  The university has had a history of struggle in recent years with community relations over the behavior of its students.  Neighbors have grown weary of loud music, rambunctious behavior and drunken antics and have complained that students have absolutely no regard for those who live in the community.


In the past three years, about a third of the members of the team have been charged with misdemeanors stemming from drunken and disruptive behavior, court records show.  Of the team’s 47 members, 15 faced charges including underage alcohol possession, having open containers of alcohol, loud noise and public urination.


In many of the cases, the charges were dropped by prosecutors if the suspects stayed out of trouble and performed community service.


There have been no arrests made yet authorities vowed to crack the team’s silence emphasizing the seriousness of the accusations €” first-degree rape, kidnapping, assault by strangulation and robbery.  “We’re asking someone from the lacrosse team to step forward,” Durham police Cpl. David Addison said.  “We will be relentless in finding out who committed this crime.”


A first-degree rape conviction requires prison time with at least 16 years for someone with no previous criminal record.


“The parents need to make them stand up and be men,” said Allyson Van Wyk, who challenged the parents of the lacrosse players to talk to their children.


Andy Cummins, a resident, agrees.  “People get accused of things,” said Cummins.  “What really upset me is that the team decided not to do an internal investigation and that everyone’s being quiet about it.  These are young men at a prestigious university, and they should speak up.”