Former Duke lacrosse player Collin Finnerty.

Former Duke lacrosse player Collin Finnerty. Credit: Newsday File / Jianghai Ho

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Three former Duke lacrosse players falsely accused of rape five years ago can pursue a lawsuit against the ex-county prosecutor and police investigators who handled their case, a federal judge in North Carolina ruled Thursday.

One of the plaintiffs in the suit is Collin Finnerty, a Chaminade High School graduate from Garden City.

U.S. District Judge James Beaty said in his decision that Finnerty and former teammates Reade Seligmann of Essex, N.J., and David Evans of Bethesda, Md., can pursue claims such as malicious prosecution, concealment of evidence and fabrication of false evidence. He dismissed other accusations, such as intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Richard Emery, an attorney for Seligmann, said they are prepared to vigorously pursue the case.

"The opinion is what I would call, overall, a ringing success for the boys," Emery said. "We're glad that we're moving ahead with the case."

An attorney for former District Attorney Mike Nifong and a spokeswoman for the Durham Police Department didn't immediately return calls seeking comment.

Beaty criticized the size of the 162-page lawsuit. He said it forced the court to "undertake the time-consuming process of wading through a mass of legally unsupportable claims and extraneous factual allegations."

"Going forward, the parties are encouraged to make every effort to reduce the volume of filings and to avoid unnecessary rhetoric," he said.

Finnerty, Seligmann and Evans were indicted by a Durham County grand jury in 2006 on charges of rape, kidnapping and sexual offense. The case arose from a stripper's allegations to police that she was raped at a lacrosse team party at which she was hired to perform.

More than a year later, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, whose office had taken over the case from Nifong, announced that all charges would be dropped and declared the players innocent victims of a "tragic rush to accuse."

The civil lawsuit filed in 2007 claims that Nifong and the investigators knowingly and intentionally concealed critical DNA evidence and produced a misleading DNA report. It calls the criminal case against the players "one of the most chilling episodes of premeditated police, prosecutorial and scientific misconduct in modern American history."

Among the people cited in the lawsuit are former Durham city police Chief Steven Chalmers and police investigators Benjamin Himan and Mark Gottlieb. Brian Meehan -- the director of DNA Security Inc., which conducted the DNA testing that proved key to unraveling the case -- is also named in the suit, as is the lab.

The case does not name accuser Crystal Mangum.

Beaty, meanwhile, also issued two other rulings Thursday in lawsuits filed by former players who weren't charged in the investigation.

He dismissed many of the claims in those cases, including all those filed by parents of players, but is allowing several other claims to go forward.

The Durham police investigators who handled the lacrosse case, Duke University and Duke President Richard Brodhead, are among those who still face claims in those cases moving forward. Duke and Broadhead face claims that they abused a confidential relationship and common law obstruction of justice.

Duke spokesman Mike Schoenfeld said the university will vigorously defend the case.

"Many of the claims in the lawsuits have been dismissed, and the few claims remaining are substantially narrowed, as we had hoped," he said.

With John Valenti

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