Insanity Defense Expected in Case of School Bus Driver Charged with Sexual Assault

Insanity Defense Expected in Case of School Bus Driver Charged with Sexual Assault

Prosecutors say four victims included students with special needs

| Published:

Etienne Kabongo

File Photo

The lawyer defending a former Montgomery County school bus driver accused of sexually abusing four students plans to argue his client is not criminally responsible by reason of insanity.

Etienne Kabongo, 62, of Gaithersburg, was arrested Aug. 5 and charged with one count each of sexual abuse of a minor, second-degree rape and third-degree sexual-offense following a July 31 incident involving a 12-year-old girl that was recorded on the bus’s surveillance system, authorities have said.

An additional investigation uncovered alleged assaults against three other students and charges were filed in those cases on Aug. 30.

Montgomery County Assistant State’s Attorney Elizabeth Haynos said at a September scheduling hearing that the four victims include some with special needs, one of whom is “limited in their ability to communicate.”

At a Friday morning court hearing, defense attorney Jim Shalleck said he is pursuing a state psychiatric evaluation of Kabongo.

Shalleck said he expects to file papers with the court Monday setting the stage for an insanity defense.

Kabongo, wearing jail-issued clothing, smiled to family members as he entered the courtroom. He did not speak during the 10-mintue hearing.

Kabongo’s five-day jury trial is scheduled for Feb. 11, though Judge James Bonifant said new evidence is expected to come from the state which may lead to a delay.

Shalleck said the facts of the case and his interactions with Kabongo led him to seek an insanity defense. This approach will be controlled by the findings of the state psychiatrist and if they don’t support the defense’s argument, “we’ll have to proceed in a different direction,” Shalleck said.

Kabongo began working as a school bus driver in 2006, mainly driving students with special needs. He was  placed on unpaid leave following his arrest, but schools Superintendent Jack Smith announced in an Aug. 6 letter to parents that Kabongo wouldn’t be returning to his job.

Kabongo, who is being held without bond at the Montgomery County Detention Center, was initially represented by a lawyer from the Office of the Public Defender.

Charlie Wright can be reached at

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