DURHAM, N.C. -- In perhaps his lowest point of the Duke lacrosse debacle, former prosecutor Mike Nifong walked into jail to serve a 24-hour contempt sentence on Friday, soon after it was revealed that the three players he falsely accused of rape are
seeking $30 million from the city.
Nifong arrived about 20 minutes before his 9 a.m. deadline to report to jail, surrounded by about 20 supporters and family members. They formed a protective cluster to walk Nifong into the building, with supporters at the front carrying signs that read, "We believe in your integrity and goodness."
About 20 reporters and a handful of hecklers were also waiting for him.
"Justice works!" a woman shouted.
"I hope your family gets what you gave those families, you scumbag," a man said loudly.
Nifong, dressed in a white polo shirt and khaki pants, refused to talk to reporters. Durham County Sheriff Worth Hill said Nifong would likely have a cell to himself and won't be allowed to interact with other inmates for safety reasons.
The father of one of the men Nifong had accused said his family took no personal satisfaction in Nifong's sentence but found solace that the justice system worked.
"The bottom line is it shows that there were no winners in this entire fiasco," Phil Seligmann said by phone from his New Jersey home. "That's clear."
Duke lacrosse players Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and Dave Evans were accused of sexually assaulting a woman who had been hired to perform as an exotic dancer at a team party in 2006. Nifong pursued the case and won indictments, but the charges were eventually thrown out by state prosecutors who declared the players innocent victims of a "tragic rush to accuse." In Nifong's contempt case, the judge found that the former district attorney withheld for months DNA evidence that helped exonerate the players.
The three are now seeking a $30 million settlement and reforms in the legal process, two people close to the case told The Associated Press on Friday. If the terms aren't met, they will sue early next month, the sources said on condition of anonymity
because the proposed settlement wasn't complete.
Both sources stressed to the AP that the money must be accompanied by legal reforms, with one saying the roughly $10 million for each family would be paid out over five years.
Durham's Police Department, which helped Nifong secure the indictments, has also come under criticism. A special committee probing police handling of the case stopped working last month, however, because the city's liability insurance provider warned that the committee's conclusions could provide material for lawsuits.
Katherine Franke, a Columbia University civil rights law professor, said while the players' reputations were damaged in a national setting, the settlement request is beyond normal standards of about $1 million.
"It strikes me as well off the charts from what one would normally get in a case like that," Franke said. "But it's the political nature of the case: How much is it worth to the city to get rid of this case given the outrage?"
Nifong recused himself from the case in January after being charged with ethics violations. He was disbarred in June for more than two dozen violations of the state's rules of professional conduct, including withholding exculpatory DNA evidence and making numerous inflammatory comments about the lacrosse players to the media, and he resigned as district attorney in July.
Last week, Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith III found Nifong in contempt for lying to the court during a hearing in the case last September regarding whether DNA evidence had been provided to defense attorneys.
Smith found that Nifong had provided defense attorneys with a DNA testing report that he knew was incomplete despite insisting that he had provided all results. The omitted data contained test results showing that DNA of multiple men, none of whom were lacrosse players, was found on the accuser. A defense attorney eventually deciphered the omitted information amid nearly 2,000 pages of test data.
Smith could have sentenced Nifong to as many as 30 days in jail and a fine as high as $500.
"I keep reflecting back to where we were a year ago when we were begging him to look at the truth and look at the facts, and he seemed committed to doing exactly what he pleased," said Jim Cooney, who represented Reade Seligmann. "He probably feels like he's in a lake of fire right now. But if he does, he needs to come to the realization that he set that fire."
Among those waiting for Nifong on Friday morning was Tom Clute, a junior defenseman on the Duke lacrosse team once vilified by Nifong's repeated public statements that a woman was sexually assaulted at a March 2006 team party where she was hired as an exotic dancer. Clute walked alongside the group snapping photos with a digital camera as the disgraced ex-prosecutor entered the jail.
"I felt sorry for his family," Clute said, "but it was good to see the whole thing beginning to come to an end."