School Bus Driver Charged with Sexual Assault Ruled Fit To Stand Trial
Attorney plans to mount an insanity defense, seeks experts to evaluate driver’s competency
Etienne Kabongo, charged with 14 sex-related charges, will face a jury in October.
A Circuit Court judge on Monday found a former Montgomery County school bus driver accused of sexually abusing four students competent to stand trial.
Etienne Kabongo, 62, of Gaithersburg, faces 14 sex-related charges, including three counts of second-degree rape and two counts of sexual abuse of a minor, for incidents captured on the bus’s surveillance system.
The state Department of Health found Kabongo competent to stand trial in a May 10 report, but defense attorney Jim Shalleck disputed the findings and was granted another month to find an outside expert to evaluate his client.
Shalleck failed to find a doctor, citing financial concerns for the family as the cause.
With only the state report to consider, Judge Robert Greenberg ruled Kabongo fit to stand trial and moved to set a trial date.
He said that Shalleck would still be able to submit an outside evaluation for future consideration.
Shalleck said he’s narrowed the search to two potential doctors. He announced plans to pursue an insanity defense at a January hearing, and maintained that course on Monday.
“We do intend to pose both competency and criminal responsibility as issues for the court,” Shalleck said.
Kabongo appeared in the courtroom wearing a dark green jail jumpsuit. He did not address the court during the hearing, only speaking briefly with Shalleck.
The court will also have to address a motion to split the counts against Kabongo into separate trials.
A motion requesting separate trials was filed in September, and state prosecutors submitted a memo opposing the action in January.
Montgomery County Assistant State’s Attorney Elizabeth Haynos said the method of abuse across the four victims was similar, supporting the initial ruling that the charges be considered in a single trial.
Kabongo was arrested Aug. 5 for a July 31 incident involving a 12-year-old girl, and additional investigation revealed alleged assaults against three other students. The victims included some with special needs, prosecutors said.
In each instance, Kabongo waited for the attendant to leave, approached the victim, attempted to interact with them, looked out of the window to see if anyone is watching, then abused the student, Haynos said.
Greenberg set the five-day jury trial for Oct. 28.
Kabongo remains held without bond in a county detention center.
Charlie Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org