2020 | Courts

Plaintiffs in Damascus High lawsuit seek access to documents on 2018 rapes

Victims allege pattern of sexual abuse in other Montgomery County high school locker rooms

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Damascus High

Damascus High School

Photo via MCPS

Teenage boys suing the school system and Damascus High Schools officials want to see documents related to the rapes they suffered in 2018, in case there’s evidence that the district knew about other similar cases at the time.

The boys, who played junior varsity football, were sexually assaulted in a team locker room.

The lawsuit, filed in County Circuit Court on Feb. 6, alleges that a pattern of sexual abuse existed in the school’s football program for years before four varsity players attacked four of their teammates in an assault that involved a broomstick on Halloween afternoon 2018.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are three of the boys who were assaulted in 2018 and their families, along with another boy who says he was the victim of a sexual assault in 2017 in a Damascus team locker room.

The lawsuit alleges that the victims suffered physical injuries and “emotional and psychological damage” due to the alleged attacks.

The plaintiffs are seeking damages of more than $75,000.

The defendants in the suit include the Montgomery County Board of Education, former Principal Casey Crouse, former coaches Vincent Colbert and Eric Wallich, and former Athletic Director Joe Doody. They are accused in the suit of negligence.

The complaint alleges that school officials knew about the ritual of “brooming” — an initiation of sorts in which sophomore football players would “terrorize freshman football players by threatening to, and at times sodomizing the younger players with the broom.”

The victims, according to court documents, want to get documents that show Damascus High School officials and others within the school system were negligent — specifically, by not doing more to stop what the plaintiffs say was a culture of sexual assault in the football program that dates at least to 2016.

The lawsuit also points to alleged sexual assaults that happened in locker rooms at Gaithersburg and Seneca Valley high schools in 2018.

Following the 2018 Damascus High rape, MCPS hired the Washington, D.C., law firm WilmerHale to investigate whether the school system followed its reporting guidelines for allegations of sexual abuse.

MCPS policy states that staff members must “immediately notify the appropriate law enforcement agency of all critical incidents,” but it is not school officials’ job to determine whether a claim of sexual assault is valid.

The investigation by WilmerHale did not find any evidence of widespread hazing or sexual assault in high school sports. But investigators said they did not conduct a “historical review of unreported incidents.”

MCPS spokesman Derek Turner referred all questions about the alleged Seneca Valley and Gaithersburg High rapes to a statement the school system issued last month after the civil lawsuit was filed.

“The lawsuits filed today raise a series of additional allegations about prior hazing and sexual assaults — many of which have never been reported to MCPS leadership,” it said.

“We trust that the attorneys who filed the lawsuits have shared their allegations with law enforcement. If they have not, we sincerely hope they will immediately share any evidence they may have uncovered so it can be fully vetted, as part of the State’s Attorney’s Office’s ongoing investigation.”

The plaintiffs have requested documents from the police department and the State’s Attorney’s Office relating to:

  • The investigation of the October 2018 assault, including witness testimony
  • Accounts of other “brooming” assaults at Damascus High from victims and witnesses before 2018
  • Investigations into sexual assaults in other Montgomery County high school locker rooms
  • Whether the Board of Education and others in the school system have investigated and reported alleged abuse of student athletes

Documents the plaintiffs have requested include reports to teachers, counselors and administrators about alleged incidents at other schools.

Thomas DeGonia, one of the attorneys representing the victims, said in an interview Wednesday that the purpose behind requesting the documents is to determine whether Damascus High school officials and others in MCPS knew of prior cases of locker room assault.

“And so the reason we asked for these documents is to document the response or lack thereof,” he said.

Crouse, Doody, Wallich and Colbert all ultimately resigned, were fired or were reassigned within the school system in the 15 months following the alleged rapes in October 2018.

The four teens who Montgomery County police say committed the assault were charged with first-degree rape, attempted rape and conspiracy charges. Their cases were tried in juvenile court, with the proceedings closed to the public. Their pleas and sentences have not been made public.

Board President Shebra Evans, Crouse, Doody, Wallich and Colbert were formally notified of the legal action in the civil case between Feb. 26 and 28, according to court documents.

Degonia said there is a scheduling hearing in Montgomery County Circuit Court on May 8. Expert witnesses will be finalized, a judge will determine whether a mediator will be involved and a date for a possible trial could be set.

The discovery phase is scheduled to be completed in the suit by Nov. 2, according to state court records, with a settlement hearing scheduled for December.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com