Juvenile court for 4th Damascus HS student charged in locker room assault

Empty School Hallway with Student Lockers(Getty Images/iStockphoto/surpasspro)

A Montgomery County, Maryland, judge ruled Thursday that the fourth Damascus High School football player charged with using a broom to sexually assault younger students in a junior varsity locker room will be tried in juvenile court. That means all four students who had been indicted as adults will be tried as juveniles.

“We think that the judge did the right thing,” defense attorney Daniel Wright said outside court. “We believe that juvenile court is the appropriate forum for this case to be decided.”

Tom DeGonia, attorney for the victims and victims’ families, said they were “outraged” by the decision.

“This was a horrible, heinous crime,” DeGonia said. “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,” he added. “And they are struggling with it daily.”

In discussing his decision — which involves consideration of the defendant’s age, mental and physical condition, amenability to treatment, the nature of the offense and the risk to public safety — Circuit Court Judge Steven Salant put credence in the testimony of clinical psychologist Randi Wortman.

Wortman testified Tuesday the fourth defendant suffered from severe, undiagnosed, untreated attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. She said ADHD can contribute to aggressiveness and impulse control problems.

Salant said of the teen: “This is not a person who plans things out — he has a problem with self-regulation of his behavior.”

Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy disagreed with the judge’s ruling.

“I just don’t see — quite candidly — I don’t think there’s any causal connection between suffering from ADHD and committing violent sexual attacks,” McCarthy said. “I do not see any logic to that particular conclusion.”

“I think that offends those families who have sons who are victims,” he continued, “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.”

Prosecutors have said the student has a history of problems in school involving bullying, sexual harassment and, according to school records, inappropriate touching.

Lawyers for the 15-year-old defendant have previously detailed why he should not have his case tried in Circuit court.

“The prosecutor’s case was character assassination. It was entirely negative,” Wright said. “The school had done nothing to try to investigate the situation or treat it.”

“Where was the school in all of this? If they had all this information, why didn’t they do a psychological exam?” he continued. “The school had lots of information at their disposal, and they didn’t do anything. … As the judge noted, they didn’t address the cause of the problem, they just addressed the symptoms.”

Three other teenage students who were originally charged as adults have had their cases transferred to juvenile court by Salant.

All four were charged 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. 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.

WTOP’s Neal Augenstein reported from Montgomery County, Maryland.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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.

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