3rd Damascus High School student charged in locker room assault was attacked as freshman

Maryland state law requires anyone over the age of 14 charged with first-degree rape to be charged as an adult, but juvenile defendants are entitled to what are called waiver hearings before a Circuit Court judge to kick the case back to juvenile court. (Thinkstock)

One of the Damascus High School football players accused in the locker room sexual assault of younger students suffered a similar attack a year earlier when he was a freshman, a Montgomery County judge said Thursday.

Doctors discovered that the third of four students charged had also been assaulted with a broom. But he didn’t consider it a sexual attack at the time, and he didn’t tell anyone because he didn’t want to be “a snitch or a punk,” according to defense attorney Shelly Brown.

Circuit Court Judge Steven Salant transferred the case to juvenile court.

Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said prosecutors did not contest the decision. Two previous players had their cases sent to juvenile court by Salant.

But, “There does remain a fourth individual that was charged as an adult,” McCarthy said, adding that prosecutors will argue in a hearing next week that that student’s case should remain in Circuit Court.

He also defended the decision to charge the teens as adults in the first place.

“I do not think we overcharged,” McCarthy said at Circuit Court. “A typical rape case has lesser included offenses that are always committed in them. Let’s say, every rape also includes an assault.”

“I will also tell you that some of the information we have today is not what we had back then,” he said.

McCarthy said his office only learned this week that the teen had told doctors he had been attacked in the locker room the previous year.

“That came in a report that we got two days ago,” McCarthy explained. “When decisions were being made about how matters were going to be charged, we made those decisions based on the information we had, and the information has changed.”

The student in court Thursday and three other classmates were indicted and charged as adults with multiple counts of rape, attempted rape and conspiracy to commit rape in the Oct. 31 attack inside the junior varsity locker room in Damascus, Maryland. A fifth teen was charged as a juvenile.

Maryland state law requires anyone over the age of 14 charged with first-degree rape to be charged as an adult, but juvenile defendants are entitled to what are called waiver hearings before a Circuit Court judge to transfer the case to juvenile court.

Quoting from a report by psychologist Susan Lipkins, who specializes in hazing, bullying and sexual harassment, Salant said young hazing victims often don’t realize what is happening to them is a sexual assault, and that they often repeat the behavior.

“The victims become perpetrators,” Salant said. “They believe they have the right and duty to do unto others what was done to them.”

The teen told his doctor he believed “brooming was a tradition at Damascus, and attempted to shrug it off,” Salant said.

When asked why he didn’t tell anyone: “I didn’t want to be labeled as a punk or snitch.”

In her report, Lipkins described a hazing victim’s reaction as a “code of silence.”

The judge said the coach at Damascus said he had heard of hazing at other schools, but did not believe it had ever happened at his school.

Outside of court, Brown suggested Montgomery County Public Schools would want to investigate how prevalent hazing is in schools.

McCarthy said his office is investigating whether hazing occurred at Damascus and other schools, and didn’t preclude other criminal cases being brought, if the evidence supports them.

“Do we now have new leads, and new people to talk to, that we didn’t have two or three months ago? … Absolutely. Will we follow those leads? Absolutely,” McCarthy said. “Where that ends, I can’t tell you.”

WTOP’s Neal Augenstein reported from Montgomery County, Maryland. WTOP’s Megan Cloherty contributed to this report.

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Writer/Editor for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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