Richard E. Lapchick, a Virginia college professor and activist in protests against South Africa who claims he was attacked by two masked men who carved the misspelled word "niger" on his stomach with a pair of scissors, has become a national civil rights cause.
More than 100 nationally prominent people, including former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark, singer Harry Belafonte, author Kurt Vonnegut, NAACP executive director Benjamin Hooks and comedian and activist Dick Gregory, have formed a New York-based Committee for Justice for Richard Lipchick.
"We were all incensed about what happened in Virginia Beach and want to see justice done," said Helen Rosen, wife of a prominent New York doctor who helped organize the committee.
In a second floor room of the Church Center for the United Nations overlooking the flags on U.N. Plaza, about 50 people gathered at a news conference yesterday for Lapchick, the son of the late famous college and professional basketball coach Joe Lapchick. Paul O'Dwyer, former president of the New York City Council, attempted to refute a Norfolk medical examiner's claim that the wounds Lapchick says he received in a Feb. 14 assault were self-inflicted.
Lapchick told police he was beaten and cut in his Virginia Wesleyan College office by two men who were trying to discourage his protests against South Africa's apartheid system.
O'Dwyer said that a lie detector test Lapchick took "proved conclusively that when Richard Lapchick said he was beaten - he was beaten. When Richard Lapchick said he did not know his assailant, that was the truth."
O'Dwyer said the lie detector test was administered by Robert Niebuhr, a polygraph examiner for 17 years and president of the Maryland Polygraph Association.
He said the questions on the polygraph test "were very much involved. The appropriate test doesn't begin and end with the desired questions."
However, he said Lapchick was asked several times if he inflicted the wounds on himself; if he knew who inflicted the wounds, and if he arranged for the assault. He answered all the questions negatively, O'Dwyer said.
He also said Dr. David M. Spain, a nationally recognized forensic pathologist, had examined Lapchick and reviewed his medical records. Spain concluded that the injuries Lapchick received were not self-inflicted, he said.
"I have concluded the extent, nature, distribution and details of the injuries and abdominal lacerations could not have been self-inflicted," Spain said in his report on Lapchick's injuries.
"Particular attention was given to the lacerations in the configuration of (the word) 'niger,'" Spain said. "The wounds on Richard Lapchick's abdomen had nothing at all in common with 'hesitation cuts,' and the multipe incisions were obviously intended to widen the letters and make them stand out more. A person doing this to himself with this because it would have caused much more pain."
Dr. Faruk B. Presswalla, chief police medical examiner for the Tide-water area, said he believes the word that Lapchick claims was carved on his stomach with a pair of scissors was self-inflicted because of the multiple strikes, which are called "hesitation marks." He also said he found no evidence to support the claim by Lapchick that his internal injuries were caused by a beating.
Presswalla could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Three other doctors who examined Lapchick said the wounds were not self-inflicted.
Capt. Ernest Buzzy of the Virginia Beach Police Department said he couldn't comment on the lie detector test since he has not seen a copy of it. O'Dwyer said a copy of the polygraph test was being sent to the police department yesterday.
Lapchick, who had earlier refused to take a lie detector test when Presswalla recommended that he do so, said he decided to take the exam because of the attention surrounding the alleged assault.
"Much more painful to me than the physical beating I received was the realization two weeks ago when I went back to Nashville that I had become as much of an issue there as the Davis Cup itself," he said.
Lapchick is the head of a group protesting next week's Davis Cup tennis tournament between the United States and South Africa at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.