Prosecutor Subpoenas Student Records as Part of Damascus ‘Hazing Culture’ Investigation
Investigators request six years of student-athlete files
MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith speaks during a media briefing on Monday in Rockville.
As part of an ongoing investigation into allegations of a “hazing culture” at Damascus High School, the county prosecutor’s office has subpoenaed student records dating to 2013.
In a letter sent Sunday to Damascus High School families, school Superintendent Jack Smith said the state’s attorney’s office has subpoenaed records of current and former student-athletes that may contain information about instances of assaults, bullying or hazing.
The school system’s letter is the first public indication of how wide a net prosecutors are casting in investigating the claims of a “hazing culture” at the school after five junior varsity football athletes were arrested late last year on rape charges.
The athletes are accused of assaulting teammates with a broomstick in a locker room, and during court proceedings, two players referred to a tradition of hazing and assault in Damascus athletics.
Between 2013 and 2017, more than 1,100 students participated in athletics at Damascus High School, according to school system data. The data includes students who may have participated in more than one sport.
Smith did not indicate how many students’ records are involved in the subpoena, but the letter says the subpoena includes student records of “all students who participated in athletics at Damascus High School” from 2013 to present. A school system document outlines procedures for complying with a subpoena, saying the students’ guardians must be notified and names of other students must be redacted before releasing the records.
A spokesman for the school system did not respond to requests for additional information about the case, including the time frame for meeting the subpoena, who would be responsible for redacting the names of students and how many parents had received additional notification that their child’s files were being turned over.
A grand jury has been convened to investigate whether there were previous “brooming” assaults at the 1,300-student school, which has been known as a football powerhouse.
A spokesman for the state’s attorney declined comment.
“These records are protected under federal and state student records laws, and MCPS must inform parents before providing documents from student records in response to such a subpoena,” Smith wrote. “MCPS intends to comply with this subpoena by providing records to the State’s Attorney’s Office. It is important to know that these records may be used as part of a legal investigation or in a court proceeding.”
Smith also wrote an internal investigation into the lack of adult supervision the afternoon the alleged rapes is expected to conclude “in the coming weeks.”
Smith has said there have been “some actions with adults” involved with the team, but did not clarify if it was disciplinary action, saying it is a “personnel issue.”
Damascus staff is also accused of not reporting the alleged rapes until the next day, despite having credible knowledge they occurred, after having launched its own investigation, according to a report by The Washington Post.
When the criminal proceedings are completed, the school system has said it will “thoroughly review the incident to determine if appropriate actions were taken by staff who responded to the matter.”
At a media briefing Monday, Smith said school staff continue to offer support to the Damascus community and will “continue to cooperate with law enforcement.”
“Obviously it’s been an area of interest for many people in the community, as it should be, and our hearts are certainly with all of the students at Damascus and the students who reported the victimization,” Smith said. “It’s an issue we take very seriously.”
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org