Attorneys for the victims’ parents indicated during a court hearing Tuesday they may try to reinstate their claims against the individuals as the lawsuit filed earlier this year proceeds. The attorneys have alleged that for years, officials at the school knew or should have known that junior varsity football players had been assaulted with broomsticks by teammates.
The four individuals dismissed from the lawsuit are: Eric Wallich, the school’s former varsity football coach; Vincent Colbert, the former junior varsity coach; Casey Crouse, the former principal; and Joseph Doody, the former athletic director.
Colbert, no longer with the school system, declined to comment Tuesday. The three others could not be reached. Wallich is currently a teacher at the school. Crouse is a central-office administrator in the system. Doody is no longer with the system.
The debate at Tuesday’s hearing turned on the lawsuit’s limited claim alleging acts of “negligence” rather than the more serious “gross negligence,” and how that affected the individual employees’ potential responsibility for damages.
The original lawsuit, filed Feb. 6, alleged there’d been broomstick assaults at Damascus High School before four players were attacked on Oct. 31, 2018, and that the JV locker room had become an “unchecked breeding ground for sexual assault.”
The lawsuit cited negligence for defendants’ failure to supervise the locker room. The four individuals and the school system owed parents the duty “to perform proper supervision and protect students from harm,” the litigation alleged.
Attorneys for Colbert, Wallich, Crouse and Doody sought their clients’ dismissal, having argued that under Maryland law, county employees “acting within the scope of employment without malice and gross negligence [are] not personally liable for damages.”
Earlier in the hearing, one of the attorneys for the families, Thomas DeGonia, had argued that because he had not received any documents from the school system or law enforcement agencies involved — a process known as discovery — he did not have the chance to substantiate whether the individuals had acted on their own without their superiors’ knowledge to determine whether gross negligence occurred.
“If that’s the case as borne out in discovery, then they would be exposed to individual liability,” DeGonia said. “The bottom line is we don’t know that yet. . . . We have been deprived of that by the defendants’ lack of discovery in this matter.”
In court papers, county attorneys criticized the original lawsuit as vague and unsubstantiated: “Plaintiffs here have failed to provide anything more than amorphous and conclusory allegations of prior notice of a brooming tradition at Damascus High School,” they wrote.
Derek Turner, a spokesman for the school system, said Tuesday that the judge’s ruling affirmed that the litigation’s claims were “not about any intentional conduct or gross negligence on the part of Montgomery County Public Schools or our staff.”
“This was a horrible and unfortunate incident,” Turner said in a statement. “Our thoughts remain with the students and families of Damascus High School. We have supported, and will continue to support, the physical, social and psychological well-being of our students who have been affected by this.”