Former Gaithersburg High wrestler claims he was sexually assaulted in unsupervised locker room

In lawsuit, former Gaithersburg High wrestler says he was sexually assaulted in unsupervised locker room

Similar suits filed alleging sexual attacks at Damascus, Seneca Valley high schools

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A former Gaithersburg High School student is suing the Montgomery County Board of Education, alleging he was sexually assaulted two years ago in an unsupervised wrestling team locker room.

In the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Montgomery County Circuit Court, the mother of the student says her son joined Gaithersburg High School’s junior varsity wrestling team during the 2017-18 school year.

On Feb. 8, 2018, the student 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.

Similar lawsuits have been filed alleging sexual assaults in unsupervised locker rooms at Damascus and Seneca Valley high schools.

In October 2018 in Damascus, four junior varsity football team members were accused of using a broomstick to sexually assault a teammate in an unsupervised locker room. The players were charged with first-degree rape, but their cases were adjudicated in juvenile court, so the results are not publicly known. A civil case alleging the school district was negligent by not doing enough to prevent the attacks is pending.

A member of Seneca Valley High School’s 2018 junior varsity team filed a lawsuit that alleges he was raped by teammates in an unsupervised locker room in September 2018.

In recent weeks, hundreds of local students have made social media posts alleging that they were the victims of sexual harassment or assault by their classmates or school district staff members within MCPS.

MCPS has begun an internal investigation and Montgomery County police are looking into allegations.

The alleged assault at Gaithersburg High in 2018 was recorded and “went viral” on social media, according to the lawsuit.

It was eventually shared with the wrestling team’s coach, Eric Britton, who notified the assistant principal, Rudy Tyrell, the lawsuit says.

Instead of notifying law enforcement, as required by a memorandum of understanding between MCPS and the local police department, Tyrell began his own investigation, according to the lawsuit. He confiscated the alleged assaulters’ phones and reviewed their contents, where he saw the video and conversations about the assault, the lawsuit says. Tyrell then returned the phones to the students’ parents and notified the victim’s parents of the attack.

Following the assault, the victim quit the wrestling team and posted on Snapchat that he “wanted to come to Gaithersburg High School to wrestle not be raped.” He eventually transferred schools and has not participated in team activities since.

An attorney for the student declined comment on Tuesday.

The victim’s family accused the school board, former Principal Christine Handy and Britton of one count of negligence, and asked for a jury trial. They are seeking more than $75,000 in damages, according to court documents.

MCPS spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat on Wednesday night that MCPS had not yet received a copy of the lawsuit and declined comment until district officials reviewed it.

The unsupervised locker room endangered students, the lawsuit says, breaching the school system’s “duty of care,” particularly because there was a history of frequent fights at Gaithersburg High.

During the 2017-18 school year, there was an Instagram account titled “GHS_fights_” that encouraged students to submit and post videos of students fighting on school property.

The lawsuit also details a fight in November 2017 in which a school resource officer attempted to intervene, but was unable to “control the violence.” The fight was recorded and shared with local media, which published several stories in late 2017 about student violence that was “out of control,” the lawsuit says.

There were 31 reports of fighting at the school during the 2017-18 school year and 21 attacks, according to MCPS data. Police responded to one fight and one physical assault.

The fights should have foreshadowed that the wrestling team should not be left unsupervised, the lawsuit says.

“Prior to February 2018, the Defendants knew or should have known of these violent student on student incidents at GHS and the publicity, which imposed a heightened duty of care to closely supervise student on student interactions at GHS,” the lawsuit says.

The three wrestlers who assaulted the student were suspended for 10 days and continued to participate in athletics at the school, according to the lawsuit.

“Upon information and belief, Defendant Board failed to impose any meaningful changes on supervision to prevent locker room sexual abuse,” it says. “Indeed, in substantially similar circumstances, students were sexually abused at Seneca Valley High School and Damascus High School in the following months.”

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

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