ROCKVILLE – Judge Marybeth McCormick accepted the request of an attorney to have a juvenile case hearing related to the Damascus High School locker room incident closed to the public in Montgomery County Circuit Court on June 6.
It was first of the multiple hearings pertained to the alleged first-degree rape incident in a Damascus High School boys’ locker room on October 31, 2018. Four members of the Damascus junior varsity football team allegedly sodomized some of their teammates with a wooden broomstick. The victims and the suspects referred to the practice as “brooming.”
According to court documents that are no longer public, during the incident — when one of the alleged victims protested the brooming — one of the respondents replied, “It’s tradition.”
Jason Downs and David Felsen, the defense attorneys representing defendants-turned-respondents in the Damascus High School alleged rape case, appeared in front of McCormick at Montgomery County Circuit Court on June 6.
Downs and Felsen’s clients in the case are two of four respondents whom Circuit Court Judge Steven Salant transferred to juvenile court in February and March. In the alleged October 31, 2018 locker room rape incident, all four respondents are under 18.
Downs appeared first on June 6 and requested to reschedule a hearing for his client. The hearing was rescheduled, and Downs sat down.
Felsen then stepped up and requested that the judge close the hearing to the public and anyone not involved in the case because involves minors. Media members asked if they would be able to stay. However, McCormick granted Felsen’s request to close the courtroom.
“At the end of the day we have children on both sides (of the case),” McCormick said.
Downs said he had “no comment,” after leaving the courtroom that day. Felsen exited the courtroom a few minutes later and also refused to comment on the case.
Given that requests to attorneys for details were met with refusals to comment, it was not clear whether either of the respondents took responsibility for any of the charges against them as minors.
A juvenile court hearing for one of the four respondents, scheduled before the June 6 hearing, is slated for June 25. As Salant transferred all the cases to juvenile court, all case files for the respective court cases were sealed from public view. The decision was made after it was determined that the teens were going to be tried as minors.
Salant said in court during the hearings for the transfer to juvenile court that a first-degree rape charge, on its own, would require the students to be sent to criminal court. Under Maryland law, the judge determines the transfer of defendants to juvenile court based on a “preponderance” of the evidence and after considering a series of factors to arrive at his decision. Salant said that the now-respondents were not mature enough to be tried as adults.
Another one of the factors was whether the suspect would respond well to treatment. Salant stated that, if the court found the suspects responsible for the incidents and sent to juvenile detention, the facilities would have services available to help them with various personal issues. In the criminal justice system, the would-be defendants would not receive those services.
Psychologists hired by defense attorneys in separate cases said in court that two of the then-defendants had been “broomed” in previous incidents. Smith wrote in a letter on behalf of McCarthy that the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office was investigating whether brooming has occurred in the school during previous years.
In the wake of the incident becoming public, Principal Casey Crous resigned and the junior varsity coaching staff were fired. Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) brought on Julius West Middle School principal intern Kevin Yates as the acting school principal. They also hired a law firm to assist with the supervision of any further investigation. Crouse will continue to work for MCPS in another capacity.
The school district investigated the supervision of the locker room at the time of the incident with permission from Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy. Superintendent Jack Smith said MCPS found that the students remained unsupervised in the locker room for 25 minutes when the incident occurred.
Smith said during a news conference that there was no evidence of “undue delay” in reporting the incident to the police by Crouse, Athletic Director Joe Doody and Junior Varsity Head Coach Vincent Colbert. All coaching staff followed protocol in the way they responded to the information they had received about the incident.
“Our investigation concluded that there is insufficient evidence at this time to suggest undue delay in reporting the incident” to police officials and the MCPS central office staff, Smith wrote in a May 14 letter to parents and guardians.
After the investigation, Doody was removed as the athletic director. However, he may continue to serve as a teacher in the county, Smith said.
Smith also announced that the Damascus football program will be put on probationary oversight of supervision to make sure that the staff is supervising students. Director of Systemwide Athletics Jeffrey Sullivan said the probationary oversight period will occur during the 2019-2020 school year.
“We will be supporting the school, the athletic program and the football program first with the healing process. I think it’s important to bring the student-athletes, the coaches, the new athletic director and school administration together to work collaboratively with them,” Sullivan said.