RALEIGH, N.C. — The state bar has added ethics charges to a complaint filed against the prosecutor who brought sexual assault charges against three Duke lacrosse players, accusing him of withholding DNA evidence and misleading the court.
The new charges by the North Carolina State Bar against Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong were announced Wednesday and could lead to his removal from the state bar, according to a copy of the updated complaint.
Nifong's office arranged for a private lab to conduct DNA testing as part of the investigation into allegations three men raped a 28-year-old woman hired to perform as a stripper at a party thrown by the lacrosse team last March.
Those tests uncovered genetic material from several men on the woman's underwear and body, but none from any lacrosse player. The bar complaint alleges those results weren't released to defense lawyers in a timely fashion and that Nifong repeatedly said in court he had turned over all evidence that would potentially benefit the defense.
Nifong's actions constitute a "systematic abuse of prosecutorial discretion ... prejudicial to the administration of justice," the complaint read.
Nifong appeared with his attorney at a procedural conference Wednesday morning to discuss scheduling and other administrative details of the ethics complaint.
Nifong declined to comment to reporters after the hearing, referring all questions to his attorney, David Freedman.
"I'd say anytime any charges are filed with the state bar they're all serious and we want to make sure we handle them all properly," Freedman said.
Last month, the bar charged Nifong with violating four rules of professional conduct by making misleading and inflammatory comments about the athletes under suspicion. Citing the conflict of interest created by the ethics charges, Nifong asked the state attorney general's office to take over the lacrosse case.
Attorney General Roy Cooper has pledged a thorough review of the remaining charges pending against lacrosse players Dave Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann. While Nifong dropped rape charges in late December after the accuser changed a key detail in her story, they are still charged with sexual offense and kidnapping.
All have strongly maintained their innocence.
Defense attorneys were able to determine from other documents produced by Nifong that there may be additional test results they had not seen, the new ethics complaint said. They filed a motion in December that described the missing tests in detail.
At a hearing Dec. 15, the director of the DNA Security Inc. testified that he and Nifong agreed to include only DNA matches — and not the results finding no matches between the accuser and the tested players — in the report on his testing results. During the hearing, Nifong said he wasn't aware the test results were excluded from the report.
"The first I heard of this particular situation was when I was served with these reports — this motion on Wednesday of this week," Nifong said, according to the bar complaint.
Outside of court, the bar complaint said, Nifong gave a different version of events to a reporter. "We ... were trying to avoid dragging any names through the mud," Nifong said.
His trial on the ethics charges is set for May, although bar officials said at Wednesday's hearing they expect it will be pushed back to June.