Culpepper lawyer alleges racism in boat prosecution

MINNEAPOLIS -- The prosecutor in the Minnesota Vikings' boat
party case denied Thursday that race played any role in his
decision to charge four black players, but not two white men for
their alleged conduct on a cruise last October.

Lawyers for Minnesota Vikings Daunte Culpepper and Moe Williams
accused prosecutor Steven Tallen of racial discrimination on
Wednesday. They served a motion on him asking for the dismissal of
charges against the two players, according to documents obtained by
The Associated Press.

Culpepper, Williams and two other players face trial on
misdemeanor charges of indecent conduct and lewdness for their
alleged behavior on two cruise boats last October on Lake
Minnetonka. They have pleaded not guilty.

In their motion, defense attorneys Earl Gray, for Culpepper, and
Joe Friedberg, for Williams, alleged that Hennepin County sheriff's
investigators have evidence that the captain of one boat kissed a
woman's exposed nipple while he was at the wheel. The papers allege
this happened immediately after the manager of a strip club paid
the woman and also touched her with his mouth.

Both the captain and club manager are white. They were listed
only by their initials in the court documents filed Wednesday.

"These two white males were never charged, yet Mr. Williams and
Mr. Culpepper, who are African-American males were charged. The
facts presented suggested that Mr. Williams and Mr. Culpepper were
singled out," the players' attorneys wrote.

Tallen, who prosecutes misdemeanor cases for the Lake Minnetonka
Conservation District, which has jurisdiction over the big suburban
lake, accused the defense lawyers of playing "the race card" to
cloud the real issues.

"Prosecuting people simply to avoid being called a racist would
not be an ethical thing to do," Tallen said. "It's too bad when
experienced, qualified lawyers resort to calling names because, I
assume, they don't have a good legal defense. They want to try it
in the papers, which I don't want to do."

Tallen said the alleged acts by the captain and club manager are
different from those of the players, because only the manager, the
captain and the woman were present, and the two men willingly
participated in the contact with her. By contrast, he said, all the
players' alleged activity happened in front of unwilling crew

The prosecutor said the captain's statement to the detective
wasn't enough evidence to support a criminal charge because, under
the law, "you can't convict someone solely on their own
confession." The woman was never identified, he added.

Plus, he added, there's no evidence that what the captain
allegedly did was illegal.

Tallen also said there would need to be more evidence than the
captain's statement to charge the club manager over his alleged
payment to the woman. And on top of that, Tallen said, the offense
suggested by the defense motion -- promoting prostitution -- would be
a felony.

Tallen said that under the law, he doesn't have the authority to
file felony charges. "Only the county attorney can charge
felonies," he said.
The Hennepin County attorney's office has said that the
sheriff's office did not present the case to it for possible felony
charges. That would have been standard procedure if investigators
thought there was enough evidence to support a felony charge.

Culpepper and Williams are accused of getting lap dances during
the party. Two other players, Fred Smoot and Bryant McKinnie, also
have pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges over other alleged
lewd acts. They did not join in the motion for dismissal. Trials
for the four are set for April and May.

A hearing in the case against Culpepper and Williams is set for
March 22. Tallen said he's been told Culpepper will testify.