Friday, June 22, 2007

Pressler says police used coercive tactics

The Herald-Sun/Bernard Thomas

Former Duke lacrosse coach Mike Pressler (center) and author Dan Yaeger (left) sign their book “It’s Not About the Truth” at the Regulator Bookshop Thursday for Boyd Vicars (right) of Durham.

BY RAY GRONBERG : The Durham Herald-Sun
Jun 22, 2007 : 8:33 am ET

Durham police investigating the Duke lacrosse case used coercive tactics against players on the team, but are due for a comeuppance, former Duke lacrosse coach Mike Pressler told a capacity crowd Thursday at The Regulator Bookshop.

Pressler, in town to promote "It's Not About the Truth," the book about the case he co-authored with writer Don Yaeger, said police investigators were intent on getting team members to "say certain things" to corroborate a phony rape charge regardless of whether they were true.

But he noted that the detectives who led the Durham Police Department's probe, Sgt. Mark Gottlieb and Investigator Ben Himan, recently procured a lawyer through the N.C. Police Benevolent Association.

Seeing that, "I remember [then-District Attorney] Mike Nifong saying why would we need attorneys if we're not guilty," said Pressler, who lost his job last year three weeks after a 28-year-old stripper lodged the false allegation. "I wanted to say to them, 'Have you ever heard of an innocent person going to jail?' "

Pressler added that the police responsible for botching the case are "going to get their's in the end."

The former coach's comments came in answer to a question from City Councilman Eugene Brown, one of the officials who's pushed for an outside review of the Police Department's handling of the case.

Pressler was also asked what he'd say to the now-disbarred-and-suspended Nifong if he stood next to the former prosecutor.

After quipping that he'd likely "be doing a whole lot" rather than saying a whole lot, Pressler said he'd ask Nifong why he pursued a trumped-up case.

"Was your pension worth this? Was your political game worth this, for all the agony and pain and dishonor you did to so many people here, to those three boys, to those families, to all the players, the former coach, you, the city of Durham?" Pressler said.

He added that Nifong's actions stigmatized an entire state.

"I'm a Yankee now, back up in Rhode Island [coaching at Bryant University], and they look at the state of North Carolina now as a disgrace because of this, and this one man," he said.

Yaeger accompanied Pressler and offered some similarly pointed criticism of Duke University officials, who he said were caught flat-footed by the allegation and proved unable to craft any real strategy for dealing with it.

The parent of one player accurately described the university's response by saying "Duke was playing one-move chess," Yaeger said. "There was no vision. They didn't know where the game was going to end. It was 'You move, now I've got to move.' Everything was about reaction. There was no thought that, 'If we maintain this position, we'll end up here.' That never happened."

Duke appears likely to emulate a number of other schools that have studied the lacrosse case and moved to better define "the rules of engagement" for handling incidents involving student-athletes, Yaeger said.

But officials there continue to duck hard questions and in particular are actively shielding school President Richard Brodhead from anyone who might ask them, he said.

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