The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Va. judge reverses decision to place teen on sex offender registry in bathroom assault case

Placeholder while article actions load

A Virginia teen whose sexual assaults of fellow students in two Loudoun County high schools generated a political firestorm will not be placed on the sex offender registry normally reserved for adults after a judge reversed her previous sentence Thursday, according to a defense attorney.

Loudoun County Judge Pamela L. Brooks said she had erred in handing out the unusual penalty for the 15-year-old at the center of the high-profile cases that sparked protests and spurred Loudoun County schools to begin overhauling disciplinary procedures, attorney William Mann said. Brooks declined to comment after the hearing.

A team of attorneys for the teen asked the judge to rescind the sentence imposed at a January hearing, making technical arguments the sentencing wasn’t properly handled and the punishment was not appropriate for what the teen had done.

After the hearing, Mann said the goal of juvenile court is rehabilitation not punishment. He said a punishment that would have potentially put the teen on the sexual offender registry for the balance of his life is not compatible with that aim.

“If the person is young and does all the right things to make amends, don’t destroy them for the rest of their lives,” Mann said.

Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj, who sought to place the teen on the sex offender registry, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The ruling did not affect other aspects of the sentencing. The teen will live in a residential treatment facility until he is 18 and will remain on probation.

Brooks, who is chief judge of the county’s juvenile and domestic relations court, said during the January sentencing hearing she had never placed a juvenile on the sex offender registry before, but she was making the move because she was incredibly disturbed by a psychological evaluation of the teen.

“What I read in those reports scared me,” Brooks said. “It scared me for your family. It scared me for society.”

Loudoun teen whose sexual assaults caused political firestorm placed on sex offender list

But during a hearing Thursday, a probation officer testified he was against putting the teen on the sex offender registry after looking at research showing teens that had been placed on the list had greater rates of recidivism afterward, Mann said. The judge cited the report in announcing her decision, Mann said.

The teen was found guilty of forcefully sexually assaulting a girl in a girls’ bathroom at Ashburn’s Stone Bridge High School in May when he was 14. While he was awaiting trial on the first case, the teen was transferred to Broad Run High School, where he forced a second girl into an empty classroom and inappropriately touched her in October. He was also found guilty in that case.

The cases stirred a backlash against a Loudoun County schools policy of allowing transgender teens to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. The policy was put in place after the first assault.

The father of one of the teen victims said the perpetrator was “gender fluid.” Prosecutors said during the teen’s trial he was wearing a skirt at the time of the assault but have not commented on his gender identity. The Post generally doesn’t name juvenile perpetrators.

The case also became an issue in the governor’s race and led parents to question why the teen was allowed to attend a second school while he was awaiting trial on the first charge. Loudoun County officials promised major changes in the wake of the case.

Virginia’s new Attorney General Jason Miyares announced he was launching an investigation into the sexual assaults earlier this month when he took office.