By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
After Dallas police concluded last month that Cowboys Erik Williams and Michael Irvin had been falsely accused of rape, Williams' attorney asked investigators to give back some of the personal items police seized during their investigation.
In response, police boxed up and returned some sex toys, a video camera, and several homemade videotapes used to record "intimate" and "obscene" moments, according to an attorney for the city.
All the items were collected from Williams' home as potential evidence during the department's probe into Nina Shahravan's allegations that she had been raped by Williams and Irvin. The 23-year-old former topless dancer eventually recanted her allegations and now faces perjury charges.
"It's not ours, we don't own it," says Assistant City Attorney Doreen McGookey, who helped advise police on their decision to send the items back to Peter Ginsberg, the Washington, D.C. lawyer who represents Williams.
While the city attorneys may have pleased--for the moment--Williams' counsel, however, they have stirred up trouble in other quarters.
For starters, Charles Babcock, the lawyer for KXAS-Channel 5 (who also represents the Dallas Observer) is not happy that some of the evidence has been sent back to Williams' lawyer.
On January 23, Babcock filed an open records request on behalf of the station seeking, among other things, "all audio and video tapes seized from the home of Erik Williams."
Four days later, the city's lawyers turned down the KXAS request and appealed to the attorney general's office to validate their decision. The city's lawyers argued that the information KXAS sought was protected and unavailable under the Open Records Act because--in part--it was possible evidence in the criminal case against Shahravan.
The city lawyers also told the attorney general that the material KXAS had requested "had no legitimate concern to the public" and was "highly intimate."
But after claiming the items might be evidence against Shahravan, police returned them to William's attorney a week or so later.
Babcock was incensed, particularly since Williams' attorney is making noise about the possibility of suing the television station, which first aired the rape allegations.
"I told the city attorney 'It's nothing personal, but I am going to write you a nasty letter telling you to get that back,'" Babcock says.
The KXAS lawyer did just that. "The action of the police is particularly astonishing," Babcock argued in his missive. Babcock contends that the city attorneys have, by sending the evidence to Williams, quite possibly damaged the district attorney's perjury case against Shahravan.
"I don't have any dog in this hunt," concedes Babcock. But he says he believes that Shahravan's lawyer could persuade a judge to dismiss the perjury charges against the woman because police may have unlawfully released evidence that might help in her defense.
Assistant City Attorney McGookey downplays that risk. "We cleared it through the police," she says. "The items were not needed [for the prosecution of Shahravan]."
Yes, Babcock says, but were they needed for the defense of Shahravan, who might want evidence of Williams' previous sexual episodes?
Williams' lawyer, not surprisingly, argues that the city lawyers have not harmed the case against the woman. "I have no evidence which could conceivably be viewed as exculpatory of Ms. Shahravan," Ginsberg says.
Shahravan's lawyer could not be reached for comment.