2021 | Schools

Trial scheduled for Gaithersburg High locker room sexual assault lawsuit

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

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A nine-day jury trial has been scheduled for a case in which a former Gaithersburg High School wrestler alleges the school district was negligent in not preventing his rape in a team locker room in 2018.

The trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 30.

In the lawsuit, filed in July 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 was recently moved to federal court and 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.

The status of that case is not clear. Records are no longer available in an online database and neither court nor school district officials could be reached for comment on Monday.

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, the lawsuit says.

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.

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