2020 | Schools

24-day trial set for Damascus High rape case

Victims’ families allege school district was negligent in preventing attacks

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Damascus High

Damascus High School

Photo via MCPS

A 24-day jury trial has been set for a case alleging the Montgomery County school system was negligent in not preventing rapes in 2018 in a football team locker room at Damascus High School.

The trial is scheduled to begin on July 26, 2021, and will determine whether officials at Damascus High willfully ignored previous allegations of sexual assault in team locker rooms. It will also address allegations that, if MCPS had addressed previous assaults, it could have reasonably prevented the assault in the junior varsity football locker room on Oct. 31, 2018.

The lawsuit was filed in February on behalf of three victims and a fourth boy who says he was raped in a team locker room in 2017. It alleges a “culture of weekly sexual assaults” in the athletics program. It says school officials did not intervene because they didn’t want to tarnish the football team’s reputation as one of the best in the country.

On the afternoon of Oct. 31, 2018, the Damascus High School varsity football team had a 51-game winning streak and was nearing the playoffs. The team had won three consecutive state titles.

But before practice, in a team locker room left unsupervised for 25 minutes, four junior varsity football players were sexually assaulted, a crime that would eclipse the team’s season.

The 33-page lawsuit calls the hazing ritual “notorious” and says a Snapchat thread was created in which JV football players would discuss the assaults, which were known as “broomings.”

It details multiple assaults in 2016, 2017 and 2018, saying they occurred “on a weekly basis.” Some freshman football players were too afraid to change clothes in the locker room, according to court filings.

Football coaches “brushed off” earlier allegations of assault and harassment, saying they “are just rumors,” but the claims were not investigated, the lawsuit says.

An MCPS-led investigation in the months following the Oct. 2018 rapes found that the JV locker room was left unattended for about 25 minutes, against MCPS policy, during which the attacks occurred.

The four teens involved were charged with first-degree rape, attempted rape and conspiracy charges. Their cases were tried in juvenile court, with proceedings closed to the public, so their pleas and sentences are not known.

School officials were also criticized for beginning an internal investigation into the 2018 attacks without notifying police until the next day.

The lawsuit says school officials violated MCPS policy and its memorandum of understanding with Montgomery County police that say staff members should “immediately notify the appropriate law enforcement agency of all critical incidents.” School district policy also says “prior to making a report to [Child Protective Services], it is not the role of any MCPS employee … to investigate or determine the validity of” alleged sexual abuse.

The lawsuit says the victims of the 2017 and 2018 assaults suffered physical injuries, as well as “serious and permanent emotional and psychological damage.”

The victims will require “extended therapy” to cope with feelings of shame, fear and suicidal ideations.

It accuses the defendants — the school board, former Principal Casey Crouse, former coaches Vincent Colbert and Eric Wallich, and former Athletic Director Joe Doody — of negligence.

Since the Damascus lawsuit was filed, similar cases have been filed stemming from alleged rapes at Gaithersburg and Seneca Valley high schools.

At Gaithersburg High, a former wrestler alleged that on Feb. 8, 2018, he went to the locker room to prepare for practice and was “physically restrained” and “digitally penetrated” as three teammates held him down, according to the lawsuit. The assault was described as an “initiation,” by the alleged assaulters, who are identified in court documents by their initials.

A member of Seneca Valley’s 2018 junior varsity football team says that teammates raped him in an unsupervised locker room on Sept. 17, 2018.
Both cases are pending in Montgomery County Circuit Court.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com