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ROCKVILLE – A circuit court judge ruled on March 7 that a third teen suspect in the alleged Damascus High School rape case will be tried in juvenile court rather than adult court.
Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Steven Salant said the suspect was 15 at the time of the incident, and a psychologist has listed issues that suggest the defendant needs treatment. Salant also said the suspect’s mental condition does not render him fit to remain in the adult court system. Therefore, he granted the defense’s request for transfer to juvenile court.
The suspect is one of four students charged with first-degree rape and attempted rape, after the teens reportedly sodomized teammates on the junior varsity football team with a wooden broomstick and attempted to do the same to other teammates on Oct. 31, 2018. Police wrote in charging documents that one or more of the suspects referred to the practice as “brooming” and called it “tradition.”
Salant has said that according to state law, the judge who reviews a motion to transfer to juvenile court must consider five factors before ruling on the request. One of the factors the judge considers is the nature of the crime with which the suspect is charged. Salant said that the nature of the crime weighed in favor of the teen remaining in adult court.
“No one can deny that this is a serious offense,” said Salant. The “consequences to the victims” are “seriously harmful.”
Salant previously had ruled that two other suspects’ cases for involvement in the incident transfer back to juvenile court. Unlike the previous two motions to transfer hearings for the Oct. 31 alleged attack, however, prosecutors did not contest the defense’s request during the March 7 hearing. Neither the plaintiff nor the defendant called any witnesses to the stand. The judge receives recommendations from the Department of Juvenile Services on each factor.
According to Salant, the teen, a high school sophomore, admitted to sitting on one alleged victim and pushing one alleged victim during the alleged first-degree rape incident.
In the best interest of the suspect and the best interest of society, another factor weighed in favor of transfer to juvenile court, the judge said. The suspect was not “a threat to society,” Salant adding quoting the Department of Juvenile Services recommendation, which said the juvenile justice system would better meet the defendant’s needs.
“(Suspect’s name)’s participation was not one of the most active, but he acted as part of a group,” Salant said.
The judge cited a report by psychologist Susan Lipkins, who said the boys on the team did not receive education about hazing, and that she believes the lack of education on hazing is problematic. Defense Attorney Shelly Brown supplied the report. Lipkins, who specializes in hazing, bullying and sexual harassment, wrote that she learned from the defendant that members of the football team are observing a “code of silence” about the brooming.
In the same report, Salant revealed in court that the suspect had been a victim of the same hazing behavior at Damascus as a freshman. In the report, Lipkins described that as “sexual trauma.” The defendant told only his older brother about the brooming, and then he “attempted to shrug it off,” Salant read from the report.
The teen did not report the 2017 incident, Brown confirmed after the hearing.
“He said he didn’t report it because he didn’t want to be labeled a ‘snitch’ or a ‘punk,’” Brown said. “Obviously, if you’re on the football team, you want to play and be part of the team. There was really no one there to help him, no one there to explain to these children that what was going on was wrong.”
Some factors, the Department of Juvenile Services said, weighed in favor of remaining in adult court, including the defendant’s physical and mental condition. However, the judge disagreed, saying that the fact that the teen suffered assaulted by his older teammates indicates that he needs help.
Salant said in court that the department wrote its recommendation before Lipkins had performed an assessment on the defendant. The judge also revealed that the defendant had said he did not know that brooming was abuse before talking to the psychologist.
“‘At the time I did not feel that it was sexual abuse, but I know now that it is,’” Salant read from a quote by the defendant of his experience.
After the hearing, Brown said the plaintiff was “feeling a sigh of relief.”
Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said during a press conference following the hearing that the suspect’s own assault incident was new information for his office. The report by Lipkins had been made available to the state’s attorney’s office about two days before the March 7 hearing, McCarthy said.
At least one other suspect who had been charged in adult court in connection with the incident told a psychologist that he was subject to brooming as a freshman.
“These are new leads” since police first interviewed the suspects, McCarthy said, referring to statements that two suspects had been sexual assault victims previously.
“They didn’t have these leads to follow up on,” McCarthy said of Montgomery County Police.
The state’s attorney’s office plans to follow the leads.
Salant will administer another hearing on the motion to transfer to juvenile court for teenage suspect Jean Claude Abedi, the final suspect, on March 21. The judge delayed his ruling, originally scheduled for March 19, to research and read all the recommendations.