Updated – 11:30 a.m. – Local elected officials say Gov. Larry Hogan’s recent comments about the case of an alleged rape at Rockville High School, including those accusing the county of failing to cooperate with federal officials, amount to politicizing the alleged crime.
Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner took to his Facebook page Tuesday evening to criticize Hogan, writing that he is appalled the Republican governor “would irresponsibly add fuel to the fire” by implying the county is refusing to cooperate in any way with the investigation of the March 16 incident. Berliner wrote the county has and will continue to “fully cooperate with federal officials in this case and in any case in which public safety has been put at risk.”
Two recent Central American immigrants, Jose Montano, 17, and Henry Sanchez-Milian, 18, have been charged in the alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl that police say happened during morning school hours at Rockville High School. Sanchez-Milian was caught by a Border Patrol agent in Texas in August and was issued a notice to appear before a federal immigration judge, though no hearing was scheduled, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. However, ICE has not provided details about the immigration status of Montano because he is a minor. Both Sanchez-Milian and Montano were charged as adults.
The teens were students at the school prior to their arrest and are being held without bond. A defense attorney for Sanchez-Milian told The Washington Post the encounter was consensual and his client has been wrongly accused.
In a Tuesday post on his Facebook page, Hogan urged the county to cooperate “with all federal authorities” investigating the “heinous crime.”
Later Tuesday, Hogan asked a series of questions in a Fox5 interview about the case, such as “Why is an 18-year-old man in a ninth-grade class with 13- or 14-year-old girls?” and also why the immigration status of one of the two suspects was not known by school officials.
“Where my biggest concern lies is with the Montgomery County school system and their lack of cooperation and the lack of information they’ve been providing,” Hogan said.
Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse wrote in an email sent Thursday that Montgomery County Public Schools was not responsive to requests for information from the Maryland State Department of Education before MCPS held a press conference about the case Tuesday evening. She also said school officials failed to respond to media or citizens for five days after the incident occurred, although she noted Montgomery County police and the county government were cooperating with information requests from the state.
The alleged crime has folded into the national conversation about immigration policy, particularly about President Donald Trump’s proposed crackdown on undocumented immigrants and whether county policies played a role in attracting the suspects to the county.
MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith said in a press conference Tuesday afternoon that the school system is required by federal law to provide an education to any student who enrolls and that 18-year-olds frequently mix with younger students in the system’s high schools. He said, however, neither suspect took classes with the 14-year-old girl.
MCPS posted a FAQ sheet on its website Wednesday that includes information about the law and why older students, such as the suspects in this case, may be enrolled as freshmen.
Smith said both suspects were classified as freshmen because they enrolled at Rockville High School without proof of having earned prior course credits. The MCPS FAQ sheet notes that students who are 17 years or older account for 8 percent of ninth-grade enrollment in MCPS, while those aged 18 or older account for 3 percent.
During the TV interview, Hogan also addressed the proposed Trust Act under consideration in the Maryland General Assembly that would ban local and state law enforcement agencies from asking about an individual’s immigration status during contact with police officers. Montgomery County employs a similar policy, but officials say the county is not a sanctuary jurisdiction because it provides information about the criminals it arrests to federal agencies such as the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Hogan said he would veto the bill immediately if it were to pass.
“I can’t imagine what these people are thinking to even propose this bill days after this girl was raped by these two young men who were in the country illegally,” Hogan told the news station.
Two state delegates from Montgomery County also criticized the governor’s comments.
“I think Gov. Hogan must have seen the polls showing his numbers sliding a little bit and thought the way to be more popular is to go after Montgomery County and make hay out of the terrible, traumatic incident that harmed a young girl,” Del. Marc Korman (D-Bethesda) said in an interview Wednesday. “He should also take a look at the Montgomery County Public Schools website, which has answers to the questions he has.”
Del. Kirill Reznik (D-Germantown) also questioned the governor’s comments in a Facebook post Tuesday, writing that Hogan has not worked to add money to the state’s budget to clear the backlog of rape kits in the state or add funds for police or prosecutors—issues he said the General Assembly is working on.
“But the minute he has a chance to exploit anger and hate against immigrants by using this tragedy as a foil true Trump-like fashion, he jumps at the opportunity,” Reznik wrote. “I’ve had a number of policy and political differences with the governor over these two years, but today, I am truly ashamed that he is my governor.”
Chasse disputed Reznik's remarks, saying the governor has supported funding for law enforcement and that the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention "oversaw the inventory process, working directly with local law enforcement agencies" to reduce the backlog of untested rape kits in the state.