Damascus, MD – Damascus High School officials failed to immediately contact police when they learned that four freshman football players had been sexually assaulted with broomsticks by their fellow teammates.
Two of the victims may have been targeted because they are the sons of law enforcement officers, WJLA reported.
Just days before the violent attack, the alleged ringleader of the group accused of sodomizing the boys told one of his future victims, “I know your dad is a police officer,” according to the news outlet.
He also allegedly demanded that the teen take off the Montgomery County Police Special Olympics t-shirt he was wearing.
“Take that f--king shirt off!” the alleged rapist, a 15-year-old lineman, told the boy. “F--k the police!”
One of the victim’s fathers told WUSA that he had “no doubt” that the teens were targeted because of their parents’ jobs.
School officials knew about the Oct. 31, 2018 attack just after it occurred, and discussed the situation in a group text message that day, The Washington Post reported.
The messages included the identity of three possible suspects, as well as the name of one of the victims.
But they sat on that information overnight, and opted to launch their own investigation the following day.
School officials pulled students out of class one-by-one, and ultimately questioned the suspects and the 14- and 15-year-old victims on their own – without police involvement.
They didn’t even bother calling the four victims’ parents, nor did they access medical care for them.
Instead, the boys were sent back to class.
According to Damascus High School spokesperson Derek Turner, school staff “first engaged law enforcement through the School Resource Officer [SRO]around 7 a.m. on November 1 and subsequently engaged with the Montgomery County Police Special Victims Investigation Division as new details emerged.”
They finally handed the investigation over to experienced sexual assault investigators at approximately 11:20 a.m. – over 16 hours after one of the victims’ fathers first notified school officials about the attacks.
The way the school handled the matter was in direct violation of the Montgomery County school district’s formal agreement with the police department, The Washington Post reported.
Under the agreement, school personnel must immediately report sexual assault allegations to the Montgomery County Police Department’s special victim’s unit.
“It’s absolutely absurd what the school did,” retired Montgomery County Police Special Victims Unit Commander James Humphries told the paper. “They’re not trained to do these types of investigations and these types of interviews.”
As many as 10 junior varsity football players stood by and watched as the four 15-year-old attackers raped their fellow players with a broomstick.
The teens shoved the broomstick through one victim’s underwear and into his body multiple times, according to prosecutors.
They jabbed two other victims in the buttocks with the broom handle, and beat up a fourth victim as he fought them off.
“There were lots of bystanders,” one of the victims said in a written statement. “They did not help.”
Another said he tried to escape, but that his teammates held him back.
“I tried my best to fight my way out of the locker-room, but it was like ten people and I was getting punched in the process,” he wrote in a statement.
“This wasn’t a prank, this wasn’t a hazing,” Montgomery Assistant State’s Attorney Carlotta Woodward said, according to The Washington Post. “This was rape, and multiple attempted rapes, of four freshman boys. The victims screamed and pleaded for them to stop. Instead, they went from one victim to the other.”
Despite the heinous nature of the attacks, Damascus High School Principal Casey Crouse described the situation as “allegations of hazing” in an email to parents and guardians later on the day of the school officials’ “investigation.”
“Today, my administration was informed of allegations of hazing by members of the junior varsity football team against their fellow team members,” Crouse said in the email. “These allegations are being investigated.”
Some argued that the principal’s message, as well as the school’s failure to immediately contact police, made the situation seem less serious that it actually was – especially for the traumatized victims.
“These were 14-year-old boys traumatized in front of their teammates through no fault of their own,” Commander Humphries told The Washington Post. “The last message they needed to be hearing, even inadvertently, was that this wasn’t incredibly serious.”
Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy praised the victims for their cooperation and willingness to discuss the attacks.
“When you’re 15 or 14 years old, and something like this happened to you and you’re a young boy…I’m not sure I’d have the courage to do what we’re asking some of these young kids to do,” McCarthy told The Washington Post.
According to prosecutors, at least two of the victims are working with therapists to help with the overwhelming emotional impact caused by the assaults.
One boy said he feels like the attack has changed the way others look at him.
“I am the kid who got the broom,” he said in a written statement.
Another teen said his life has been destroyed because he “was raped with a dirty broomstick in front of his teammates, by his own teammates.”
On March 21, a judge determined that the last of the four suspects charged with forcibly sodomizing the boys with a broomstick would be tried in juvenile court, just like his co-defendants, WUSA reported.
They were all originally charged as adults.
“A 15-year-old brain is not fully developed, even with a completely healthy 15-year-old,” Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Steven G. Salant declared, according to The Washington Post.
The father of one of the victims said that the group’s ringleader, who is over six feet tall and weighs 245 pounds, “spent four years terrorizing the Damascus community” prior to committing the “violent rape,” WUSA reported.
He had five previous run-ins with the law, had over 100 disciplinary reports, and allegedly threatened another teammate with a broomstick shortly before the attack on the other four students.
But that suspect’s attorney, Daniel Wright, blamed Damascus High School officials for not stopping the heinous crimes his client perpetrated, and said that the allegations against him were a “character assassination.”
Wright said that the school had a history of student hazing, and that they knew his client, who has since been diagnosed with ADHD, was troubled.
They shouldn’t have left the locker room unattended, he added.
McCarthy denounced the judge’s decision to charge the fourth suspect in juvenile court, and specifically questioned how an ADHD diagnosis contributed to his alleged crimes.
"I don't think there is any causal connection between ADHD and violent sexual attack," McCarthy noted.
“I think that offends those families who have sons who are victims, but it also offends … the men and women in this community who have children who have ADHD, who are medicated, who know that their children are not violent sexual offenders — to suggest that that diagnosis leads to that conduct, I just don’t think is consistent,” he added, according to WTOP.
Tom DeGonia, an attorney for the victims and their families, said they were “outraged” by Salant’s decision.
“This was a horrible, heinous crime,” DeGonia he declared. “And it’s important for accountability, and it’s important for [the victims] to know that the criminal justice system views this as importantly to them as it is to the community.”
“This is something these young men are going to have to live with for the rest of their lives, and they are struggling with it daily,” he added.