Lawsuit accuses Damascus High School of ignoring sexual hazing

Four Maryland students who said they were the victims of rapes in a locker room in Damascus High School in 2017 and 2018 have filed lawsuits against the Montgomery County Board of Education.

The suits, filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court, accuse Damascus High School officials of neglect, ignoring threats and mishandling the assaults because of the successful football program.

The plaintiffs are asking for monetary damages.

“What we want is justice and justice can be measured, under our system, only in dollars and cents,” William H. “Billy” Murphy Jr., a lawyer representing two of the victims and their families, said.

The two identical lawsuits claim that coaches, teachers and administrators knew about the tradition of “brooming” within the Damascus High School football program, but the school did not take steps to prevent it.

Court documents also allege that school officials failed to immediately report the incident on Oct. 31, 2018.

School officials reported the assault to Montgomery County police at 8:30 a.m. the following day — more than 12 hours after they learned about it on the night of Oct. 31, 2018, The Washington Post reported.

The school system said Thursday that it had received copies of the lawsuits.

“The lawsuits filed today raise a series of additional allegations about prior hazing and sexual assaults — many of which have never been reported to MCPS leadership,” spokesman Derek G. Turner said in a statement.

When the locker room rape allegations in 2018 came to light, the school system hired an external adviser to investigate. The results found that what was characterized as “hazing” was not a widespread problem in the school system.

Based on the external investigation, the school system established new protocols for supervision of all after-school activities and planned to budget additional money for security at events taking place after traditional school hours.

“The defendants knew about the locker room sexual assaults at Damascus and at other high schools in Montgomery County prior to the widely publicized events of Oct. 31, 2018, but were wholly indifferent to them,” Thomas M. DeGonia II, who represents one of the students, said.

One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuits was a victim of an alleged assault in 2017.

Another claim in the lawsuits singles out one of the accused attackers in the 2018 incident, who court documents said had a history of violence — including attacks on teachers and an armed robbery of a student — and is the subject of hundreds of complaints about his behavior since middle school.

“Damascus High School put a winning football culture ahead of a culture of safety, ahead of protecting their own students, ahead of protecting their own players. They knew that there was a culture of violence in the locker room, yet they allowed it to flourish because they put winning first,” lawyer Timothy F. Maloney said.

The lawsuits also claim that one of the alleged attackers in the 2018 case was once a victim of this type of assault. This student is not being represented as a plaintiff in these two suits.

“The facts that we allege are incontrovertible. And these incidents actually were real and happened because the locker room was unsupervised,” Murphy said.

The school system said that it hoped the lawyers for the victims have shared these allegations with law enforcement and that they share any evidence they may have uncovered so it can be “fully vetted, as part of the State’s Attorney’s Office’s ongoing investigation.”

Law firms involved in the two suits want to hear from anyone with relevant information. The hotline number is 1-800-277-0150.

The outcome of the criminal charges against five suspects in the 2018 case is unknown because cases in juvenile court are confidential.

More on the Damascus High School case

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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