Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Lawsuit Breakdown: Duke's Treatment of Ryan McFadyen

[The series Lawsuit Breakdown will attempt to highlight the main points of the lawsuit filed on 12/18/07 by attorneys for Ryan McFayden, Matt Wilson and Breck Archer with a focus on Duke University's involvement in the scandal.]

On April 5, 2006, the false rape case against the lacrosse team had already unraveled substantially as the impossibility of the stories Durham Police were feeding to the media were becoming clearer and clearer. However, that day Judge Stephens unsealed a warrant to search the dorm room of lacrosse player Ryan McFadyen. The warrant included an excerpt from an email that McFadyen had sent to the rest of the team containing a crude parody of a passage from the novel American Psycho, a favorite among Duke students and required reading for three Duke courses. Though Nifong, Gottlieb, and Himan agreed to add a new charge of conspiracy to commit murder to the rape allegations, it was plainly obvious that the charges were beyond absurd, and that the email was clearly a joke, especially to anyone who knows the size of an Edens dorm room (lest anyone believe McFadyen actually intended to fit an entire lacrosse team into a 160-170 sq. ft. room along with two strippers).

When the news broke, "Defendants Moneta, Bryan and Wasiolek unilaterally suspended Ryan, without notice, hearing, or inquiry" (p. 213). Ekstrand alleges that Dean Wasiolek "searched frantically for Ryan demanding that Ryan come to her office to sign a waiver of his FERPA [Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act] rights" (p. 214). Ekstrand does not specifically say whether or not McFadyen ever actually signed this waiver, but he seems to imply that Ryan did not:
"That evening, believing that Ryan had waived his rights to privacy under FERPA, Defendant Brodhead [...] provided on the record comments in which he condemned Ryan, revealed that the University had suspended him under the 'safety of the community' provisions of the student code of conduct, [...] that he would be held to answer for his 'conduct' in the University's disciplinary proceedings, and claimed that he was free to say all of these things because Ryan had signed a waiver of his FERPA rights."
If it is correct that Ryan never actually signed a waiver, and yet his "punishment" was advertised to the world in this fashion, then this is clearly abhorrent behavior from the Duke administration, and Brodhead in particular, and yet another violation of federal law. Even if Ryan signed a waiver, it is nevertheless appalling that administrators would have gone to such effort to get him to sign a waiver for the sole purpose of being able to publicly assail him on clearly absurd grounds. On top of that, it is astounding that in spite of those efforts, no effort was made to ask Ryan about the nature of the email before publicly sliming him.

In case the despicable motives of the administration were not already apparent from their handling of the McFadyen email, Ekstrand contrasts this response to a clearly harmless email with the administration's response to "an actual email threat" in Chauncey Nartey's infamous email to Coach Pressler. Sue Pressler filed a police report with the Duke Police, who did nothing, and Mike Pressler met with Moneta, who "refused to take any action on Nartey's email, or submit the matter to the Undergraduate Judicial Board" (p. 216). Nartey was also the president of a fraternity that had recently lost its charter for hazing violations. Nevertheless, Nartey was "one of five students appointed to Defendant Brodhead's Campus Culture Initiative" (p. 216). On top of that, "Nartey was a recipient of the 2007 William J. Griffith University Service Award" (p. 216), an award "given to graduating students 'whose contributions to the Duke and larger community have significantly impacted University life. Students who demonstrate an understanding of the responsibilities of effective university, communal and global citizenship...'" (p. 216-217).

Ryan McFadyen was pilloried by Brodhead and the Duke administration for a clearly harmless, private email while Chauncey Nartey was not only given immunity from discipline but showered with honors by the Duke administration in spite of sending and email that would obviously be perceived as a severe threat to Coach Pressler's daughter at a time when threats of violence and drive-by shootings were abundant. Nartey even went to the trouble to look up his daughter's full name.

[Edited 12:14 AM 1/17/08]
Please take note of a thoughtful exchange between UNCW professor Chris Halkides and DSEDuke in the comments section of this post.


Jim in San Diego said...


Where was/is the Law School?

Are there no responsible adults in charge?

Jim Peterson

Anonymous said...

The Duke Law School was at the time busy wasting many thousands of man-hours defending terrorists at Gitmo. They didn't have time to worry about a lynching in their own back yard.

Walter Abbott

halides1 said...

Although I agree that Ryan was treated shabbily, I cannot agree with Mr. Taylor and Professor Johnson on one point, that of the intent of Chauncey Nartley's email. I cannot fault Mr. and Mrs. Pressler for being alarmed, but I personally did not read this email as Chauncey's making a threat against their daughter. I think he believed that they didn't take the rape allegation seriously enough and was trying to convey the gravity of the charge to them. I agree his bringing their daughter in was poor judgement.

Chris Halkides

Ethical Duke said...

It is not quite accurate that KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor characterized Nartey's email as a threat - they do not in Until Proven innocent, anyway. However, Nartey's email was intentionally intended to cause great alarm at a time of great conflict for both the Duke community and the Presslers, as even he admits. Here is Until Proven Innocent's characterization of the email and Chauncey's motives:

"He sent the Presslers an e-mail whose menacing subject line read: “WHAT IF JANET LYNN WERE NEXT???” Nartey would later explain that he intended no threat. He took the time to ferret out the name of Pressler’s older daughter, he said, because he wanted to get the coach’s attention. That way, Nartey hoped, the coach would read Nartey’s earlier e-mail: “SOME THINGS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN WINNING A FEW GAMES. END THE SEASON UNTIL THE ALLEGED RAPISTS ARE FOUND! YOU’LL BE A MUCH BETTER COACH FOR IT.”
Whatever Nartey’s intention, in the vigilante atmosphere of the time, the Presslers feared for their children. On March 31, Sue Pressler filed a report with the Duke Police" (p. 136).

Sending such an intentionally alarming email, one that will clearly be received by any decent parents as a threat against their daughter, for the sole purpose of getting Pressler's attention is indefensible. Harassment seems to be the most charitable way to characterize the email, and at the very least it should have warranted immediate response by either Duke Police or Larry Moneta or Dean Bryan, even if that response were simply a prompt and stern reprimand.

Moreover, in Nartey's two emails, he assumes that:

A) there was a rape by lacrosse players (there were "alleged rapists" to be found)
B) Coach Pressler knows this and simply does not care about rape

The impropriety and asinine nature of Nartey's thought process here are truly disturbing. Perhaps it was not a threat, but it is quite generous to condone it as an attempt to express the gravity of the charge.

So many perceived that the lacrosse team did not express adequate sympathy for the accuser, a perception for which there were two explanations:

1. they knew there was no rape and they were being falsely accused
2. 47 lacrosse players and their coach, all of whom were deemed of high enough character to attend Duke University, are all perfectly in favor of violent, racially-motivated gang rape, including one player who was African American.

It is truly disturbing and amazing that so many in the Duke community jumped to the latter conclusion, and that is highly indicative of some of the twisted thinking that seems to go on at college campuses.

Ethical Duke said...

Perhaps one could more comfortably compare it to yelling "fire" in a movie theater. Regardless, the fact that it apparently was not immediately investigated or given any concern by Moneta is disturbing in and of itself, regardless of punishment or censure.

Anonymous said...

There is another important factor to think about. Although in bad taste, Ryan s e-mail was a private e-mail sent to his team only. When it was written they players knew NOTHING about the allegations. That did not happen until Wednesday night when the first they heard about the 'fantastic lies' .( TWO days later.) Nartley sent his e-mail directly to the Presslers that they obviously took as threatening. Remember at the time the players were being harrassed, threat of the New Black Panthers, drive by shootings,players being spit on, faculty/adminstration attitudes,potbangers and the storm of the media. It was a horrible environment at the time, so they had every right to feel threatened.
Where the problem lies is the stark difference in treatment by Duke. Ryan is never asked ANYTHING but Nartley gets 'promoted'. Hum !

Debrah said...

I totally concur with DSEDuke @ 9:51 PM.

An excellent post.

All key points on target.

halides1 said...

Here is my parsing of the emails and the responses to them. Chauncey wrote in the subject line “WHAT IF JANET LYNN WERE NEXT.” By writing in capital letters, he is shouting, (which is rude). Since he says only “next” we must surmise that he meant next to be raped and therefore that a rape had already occurred. However, elsewhere he referred to the “alleged rapists” which implies that a rape had not yet been proven. Apparently, Chauncey thought that ending the season was the right course of action, and Coach Pressler should have done so on his own. On the basis of these two emails, I would say that it is ambiguous whether Chauncey were certain that a rape had occurred, but that he probably did (which was an unwarranted assumption on his part). Advocating ending the season was plain dumb, IMHO.

Taylor and Johnson used the word “menacing” to describe Chauncey’s email on page 136, and they describe Chauncey as “putting the Pressler family in fear of harm of their children” on page 150. My thesaurus lists “threatening” as one of the synonyms for menacing, so I stand by my use of this word in my earlier post. Because no other type of crime or harm has been mentioned, there is only one possible threat that can be inferred here, that Chauncey actually intended to rape Janet Lynn. If Chauncey had really intended this violent crime, would he shout this via a university email account to someone who would stop at nothing to prevent it? By some of the same logic that one can dismiss Ryan McFadyen’s supposed intent to kill and skin strippers, one also has to dismiss Chauncey Nartley’s supposed intent to rape Coach Pressler’s daughter.

I am convinced that the Group of 88 was insincere and possibly malevolent, but surely some of those who were allied with them were only misguided or gullible. Chauncey belongs in the latter category, as I see things. Therefore, I would modify the comparison that his email was like yelling “Fire” in a crowded theater. It is more like yelling “Fire” during a performance of “Les Miserables” when one thinks one sees smoke but is actually seeing carbon dioxide bubbling out of water.

Just so that I am not misunderstood, I have great respect for “Until Proven Innocent” and its two authors. I have tremendous sympathy for the Coach Pressler, who seems perfectly blameless in this entire affair. And if I were a parent receiving this email about my daughter, I would be concerned, too. Moreover, the comment that the situation was already tense by this time is a point well taken. The email was rude, insensitive, and inflammatory even in my possibly too charitable reading. Therefore, Chauncey deserved the admonishment or reprimand that he received, and he did write an apology. Maybe he did not belong on the campus committee, but I don’t see any grounds to suspend him. Suspensions and administrative leaves, after all, were used too freely and too long against Ryan, Collin, and Reade.

Ethical Duke said...

It is completely clear that Nartey did not intend to rape the Presslers' daughter, and we certainly don't think Nartey should have been suspended for what he did. We want to be clear on that. It was Nartey's intent to capture the attention of Coach Pressler by sending what would clearly be an alarming email.

The point here is that the Nartey email and Duke's response to it present an extraordinary contrast to the McFadyen situation.

Though Nartey did eventually apologize after a reprimand from the administration, the reprimand did not come until roughly two months later, which to the best of our knowledge the first time Nartey had been approached about the email. The administration and police owed it to a legitimately worried father and mother to address their concerns and the matter much, much sooner.