Lawsuit: UMBC, prosecutors covered up sexual assaults

CATONSVILLE, Md. (AP) — A class-action lawsuit says prosecutors and detectives worked to cover up sexual assault complaints at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Two former students said they reported rapes to the university and county police, who then failed to act and intimidated the plaintiffs, news outlets reported.

According to the lawsuit filed Sept. 10, authorities have a pattern of coding sexual assault reports to deflate crime statistics.

One plaintiff’s rape kit was destroyed early, and university police discouraged her from reporting the assault to local police, the lawsuit said, and when she did go to local authorities, the case was improperly closed.

The other plaintiff said she was gang-raped by UMBC students while a student at Towson University. She submitted a rape kit and reported the case to police, but the lawsuit said the case was “inexplicably closed.” Detectives interviewed the three men, who acknowledged having sex with her while drunk but said “they did not understand what the issue was,” according to court documents.

A prosecutor declined to charge the men. The case was “cleared due to exceptional circumstances,” according to the filing.

The plaintiff asked the court to intervene, resulting in first-degree rape and related charges that were later dismissed. That request triggered a pattern of intimidating behavior from Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger, according to the lawsuit, sent county police officers to her home to threaten her with criminal charges if she continued to pursue the case. Two months later, her sister was fired from an internship in the Baltimore County state’s attorney’s domestic violence section.

While prosecutors enjoy special immunity, legal experts told The Baltimore Sun that immunity doesn’t extend to actions outside the scope of their duties — like intimidating a witness.

Plaintiff’s attorney Rignal W. Baldwin said multiple women have come forward with similar experiences, and he anticipates amending the lawsuit to include them as plaintiffs. Baldwin described a massive systemic concealments and dismissal of sexual assault cases, saying the $10 million sought in damages is secondary to accountability.

University police, county police and prosecutors declined to comment. UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski III told student protesters Monday that the school would launch an external review.

“You have my word,” he told students. “We will take this very seriously.”

The lawsuit was filed nearly two years after a report on the unusually high number of sexual assault cases deemed unfounded led to an independent review of Baltimore County police policies and procedures. The county instituted changes to sexual assault investigatory policies in February 2017.

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