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Students protest after Maryland lawsuit alleges ‘shameless corruption' in concealing rape cases

A federal lawsuit filed last week claims police, prosecutors and university administrators cover up sexual assaults.

UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski III responds to student demands after they marched on the administration building. The students were protesting the university's alleged mishandling of sexual assault allegations. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)
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Students at the University of Maryland Baltimore County staged a campus protest this week after a federal lawsuit was filed alleging that police, prosecutors and university officials concealed reports of sexual assault.

The lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Maryland, alleges far-ranging “intentional misconduct” among officials “designed to cover up justifiable complaints of sexual assault.” It went on to allege that Baltimore County, the Baltimore County Police Department, the Board of Regents for the University System of Maryland, the University of Maryland and the University of Maryland Police Department engaged in “shameless corruption.”

“In contravention of Plaintiffs' rights to equal protection, Defendants intimidated witnesses, deceived victims, and intentionally misstated the applicable law,” the suit said. “They conducted punitive investigations and retaliated against victims' families. They humiliated and deceived those who complained of sexual assault.”

The lawsuit detailed two women’s claims. One was an 18-year-old UMBC freshman when she was raped in her dorm in 2015 by a person thought to have sexually assaulted other students, the lawsuit said.

It alleges that UMBC Police Chief Paul Dillon persuaded her not to report the assault to police, but to have it handled “administratively” instead. After the assailant was exonerated by the school, the student reported the rape to Baltimore County police, but the report was wrongly classified as a “suspicious condition,” not a sexual assault, and was never prosecuted, the lawsuit alleges. Her sexual assault examination kit was also destroyed, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also detailed the allegations of a student who was a junior at Towson University in 2017 when she was allegedly raped by three members of the UMBC baseball team.

Though she reported the assault, the lawsuit alleges that Lisa Dever, Baltimore County assistant state’s attorney and the chief of the sex offense and child abuse division, ignored evidence and “refused to charge any of the three men with a crime” and that state’s attorney Scott Shellenberger ordered them not to be served with court summonses.

The Baltimore County state’s attorney’s office said it had no comment on the matter.

In response to the lawsuit, UMBC students on Monday confronted the university’s president, Freeman A. Hrabowski, bringing a list of demands and saying the school should “actively work to create a safe, healthy, and inclusive environment for survivors.” Students also demanded Dillon be fired and other administrators, including members of the athletic department, be suspended.

In a statement posted to social media on Saturday, Hrabowski and provost Philip Rous said, “it is not appropriate for us to comment on specific litigation.”

“Sexual assault is a deeply troubling issue,” the statement said. “UMBC emphasizes both preventing sexual assault and responding effectively to allegations of sexual misconduct. Providing a safe, supportive learning community is our priority.”

In an audio recording of a meeting with the president provided to The Washington Post, the president apologized to students.

“Let me certainly apologize. Clearly we have not done a good enough job,” he said. “We thought we were doing a good job. We’ve done a lot. But it clearly was not enough.”

Philip Brooks, a 19-year-old sophomore who is part of the coalition of students behind the protest, said the protest “was just the beginning of the fight.”

“Even at this kind of college — a nonparty campus — things like this happen,” he said. “It’s distressing.”

UMBC spokeswoman Lisa Akchin said Hrabowski met with students over the weekend before the protest and praised the demonstrators for “speaking truth to power.”

“We are listening and we are learning,” she said. “While we have increased capacity and training to support sexual assault response … we have not yet done enough.”

Saying the school had no immediate plans to fire anyone, she added: “We can’t jump to conclusions.”

The lawsuit comes two years after a BuzzFeed investigation cited in the lawsuit said Baltimore County police have “an alarming record of dismissing rape cases.” Although changes were instituted last year, the Baltimore County Police Department “covers up reports and refuses to investigate those it cannot cover up,” the lawsuit alleges. A police spokesman on Tuesday declined to comment on the BuzzFeed report or the pending litigation.

In an email, Rignal Baldwin V, who is representing the women, said the plaintiffs are grateful to students at UMBC for their support.

“We expect that many more women will come forward with similar stories, and some already have,” he said. “We hope that this lawsuit leads to a full and public accounting of how Baltimore County and UMBC respond, or fail to respond, to allegations of sexual assault.”

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