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Players allege Duke failed to protect their reputation

  • Story Highlights
  • Dozens say they suffered when their teammates were falsely accused of rape
  • Current and former players are seeking an unspecified amount of money
  • The federal lawsuit names several school and city officials
  • Duke general counsel: Strategy is misdirected and without merit
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From Kate Bolduan
CNN
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Almost 40 members of Duke University's men's 2006 lacrosse team are suing the school and the city of Durham, North Carolina, their attorney announced Thursday.

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Some of the parents of former Duke lacrosse players get emotional at a news conference in Washington Thursday.

The players say they suffered emotionally and their reputations were injured during the months in which three of their teammates were falsely accused of sexual assault.

"This lawsuit is borne out of Duke and Durham's sustained wrongdoing and callous conduct against the players over many months in 2006 and 2007," attorney Chuck Cooper told reporters at a Washington news conference.

The 38 current and former players, as well as some of their family members, are seeking an unspecified amount of compensation in the federal lawsuit. Video Watch Cooper talk about the 'aggrieved' athletes »

It claims intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress and breach of duty when players David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann were accused of sexually assaulting an exotic dancer at a March 14, 2006, party.

The charges against the three forced the cancellation of the team's highly anticipated 2006 season and cost coach Mike Pressler his job.

In April 2007, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper reviewed the case and exonerated the three men, and declared the charges never should have been brought against them.

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The suit names several school and city officials, including Duke University President Richard Brodhead; Durham Police Chief Steven Chalmers; and Linwood Wilson, then the lead investigator for Durham's district attorney during the Duke case.

Durham officials "corruptly seized upon and exploited the accuser's lies and intense media firestorm" and Duke officials "steadfastly remained silent" and did not defend the players, Cooper said.

Notably absent from the suit is former Durham district attorney Mike Nifong, who has since been disbarred and spent a day in jail for his handling of the case against the three players.

On Thursday, Cooper called the lawsuit "extraordinary" and "historic."

"We're aware of no other instance in which essentially an entire team of student athletes has been so aggrieved and injured by the university's collective mistreatment and misconduct," Cooper said.

"They have united together in a lawsuit seeking to call the university and its officials to account for their actions."

Duke University vice president and general counsel Pamela Bernard said in a statement: "If these plaintiffs have a complaint, it is with Mr. Nifong. Their legal strategy -- attacking Duke -- is misdirected and without merit."

She said Duke offered to cover the cost of any attorneys' fees or other out-of-pocket expenses, but the offer was rejected.

"We will vigorously defend the university against these claims," Bernard said.

Durham spokeswoman Beverly Thompson said: "It certainly wasn't unexpected, and the city's attorneys are already reviewing it. Until they do what they need to do, I don't have any other information or comments concerning it."

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Duke University and the three indicted players reached an undisclosed settlement shortly after the sexual-assault charges were dropped last year, and they have a separate suit pending against Durham and Nifong.

Additionally, three other players have separately filed suit against Durham and Duke University. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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