Overhaul of Damascus High Football Program, Staff Ordered

Overhaul of Damascus High Football Program, Staff Ordered

Moves come in wake of alleged broomstick rapes, delay in reporting to police

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Damascus High School

Photo via MCPS

Updated 7:25 p.m. Tuesday

The Damascus High School football program is being put on probation and the school’s athletic director and junior varsity football coaching staff are being replaced, the county school superintendent announced Tuesday.

The moves come following a lengthy internal investigation into alleged rapes in a football locker room  last Halloween during what was described as an initiation hazing of players.

There was no adult supervision in the locker room for about 25 minutes the afternoon of the alleged attacks because the JV coaches who were responsible for supervision were “delayed in their arrival,” according to a letter sent to Damascus parents by Superintendent Jack Smith.

“While there is nothing to suggest the coaches could have reasonably expected a sexual assault to occur in the locker room in the absence of supervision, the lack of protocols in place to ensure coverage in the locker room is unacceptable,” the letter says.

Smith said the school system has begun looking for a new JV coaching staff and athletic director.

All football programs will also be placed on a one-year “probationary oversight” period, during which school system staff will “closely monitor the football program … to ensure it is in full compliance” with local and state regulations, the letter said.

If the team violates any rules while on probation, school system director of athletics Jeff Sullivan said “anything would be on the table,” regarding possible punishments. He did not elaborate.

“We’ll be supporting them from get-go to ensure there are no infractions. That’s our end game,” Sullivan said during a press conference Tuesday evening.

The school system confirmed in the letter Damascus High School staff learned of the rapes the evening of Oct. 31 after a parent of a football player contacted JV head coach Vincent Colbert.

On Halloween afternoon, four JV football players are accused of raping some teammates with a broomstick before practice, according to police and court reports

The four face first-degree rape, attempted rape and conspiracy charges in juvenile court.

The school system’s internal investigation included interviewing Colbert and reviewing text messages between Damascus staff regarding the rapes, according to the letter.

Principal Casey Crouse resigned last week and has moved to a job in the school system’s central office as an “administrator on special assignment.”

Colbert and Athletic Director Joe Doody were placed on administrative leave within the past month.

Colbert has since been fired, Smith said, saying “he will not continue on with MCPS,” while Doody, also a teacher, will not be allowed to work at any county school as an athletic director. He could, however, work as a teacher, but “he will not be teaching at Damascus anymore,” Smith said.

Smith declined to disclose how many Damascus staff members have received discipline, but said “we have taken appropriate action with all of those involved.”

The Tuesday school system letter confirms staff did not contact police until the next day.

“Our investigation concluded that there is insufficient evidence at this time to suggest undue delay in reporting the incident,” the letter said. “Each coach and staff member responded consistently with MCPS protocols based on the details of the incident that were known and understood by them on the evening of October 31, 2018.”

The letter goes on to acknowledge community members may disagree with the investigation’s findings.

“Looking at the events of that evening as reported by the media, some may criticize this finding and argue that school staff should have reported more quickly, even if some details remained unsettled and unclear,” the letter said. “In hindsight, it is of course possible to second guess complex and evolving circumstances.”

The school system will review guidelines about reporting suspected incidents of sexual assault allegations, according to the community letter.

School officials continue to cite “personnel actions” in not releasing information about specific disciplinary actions taken.

The new revelations come a week after an emotional meeting in Damascus during which parents slammed the school system for a lack of transparency during investigations into the alleged rapes.

One parent said her son tells her each time he participates in an athletic event, members of the opposing team make comments such as, “Get away or I’m going to get the broom.”

During the meeting, one of the first public community gatherings since the alleged rapes, parents said Damascus students feel “alienated” due to a lack of new information the past six months.

“I know this incident and the subsequent investigations have caused sadness, frustration and anxiety in the community,” Smith wrote in Tuesday’s letter. “Please know that we would have liked to have moved more quickly on this matter, but MCPS was required to wait so that the State’s Attorney’s Office could move forward with its criminal investigation without interference or prejudice.”

A grand jury has been convened to investigate claims of a “hazing culture” in Damascus High athletic programs. Last month, the school system announced the student records of all student-athletes that contain instances of assaults, bullying or hazing dating to 2013.

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.

This story, first posted at 4:41 p.m., was updated to reflect additional comments from a Tuesday afternoon news conference.

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

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