A Maryland judge presiding over the sexual assault cases stemming from alleged broomstick attacks in a high school football locker room ordered a 15-year-old suspect’s case transferred to juvenile court, the second such move within a week in the case.
Kristian Jamal Lee, until recently a freshman at Damascus High School, would be amenable to treatment in the state’s juvenile court system, according to the Friday ruling by Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Steven G. Salant. That system is geared toward rehabilitation, with punishment often imposed as probation and with no public conviction left on the record.
He is among four suspects in the case who each were charged as adults with one count of first-degree rape and three counts of attempted first-degree rape.
Prosecutors in Montgomery County had argued he should stay in adult court for trial. They said he was a key part of a series of attacks by junior varsity players against four of their teammates in the locker room on the afternoon of Oct. 31.
Last week, Salant made similar findings for another of the teens charged as an adult.
In Maryland, first-degree rape covers a range of non-consensual acts that can involve the body or use of an object. The charge generally requires an aggravating factor, such as multiple assailants or the use of a weapon.
Two additional suspects remain charged as adults: Caleb Thorpe, of Gaithersburg, and Jean Claude Abedi, of Clarksburg. Both were 15 at the time of the alleged attacks and have asked that their cases be moved to juvenile court. A hearing for Thorpe’s request is set for March 14; one for Adebi’s request is set for March 19.
Since the case became public, it raised the still-hanging question of whether “brooming” was any kind of long-standing ritual among the football team. Among members of the 2018 team, the term was well known, according to police interviews with suspects and victims of the recent attacks.
But until the alleged incident on Oct. 31, many of those same students considered it a myth or a practice that would not be violent, statements made to police show.
As a member of the junior varsity squad, Lee considered it a tradition, according to testimony Friday by Kiu Eubanks Smith, a clinical psychologist hired by Lee’s attorney and who evaluated the teenager.
“From Kristian’s point of view, this is a hazing incident,” Smith said. She said the teen had learned about it from other players.
“He had been told that it happened before,” Smith said. “He had been told it was a tradition at the school.”
Smith said Lee didn’t realize that the attacks as alleged that afternoon may have amounted to rapes and attempted rapes.
The judge, Salant, made similar observations, saying that how the teenager viewed the incident was telling of his development. Lee had just turned 15 on Oct. 31.
“It is clear that a horrible act occurred, that it happened to several of our children in the community,” Salant said. “It no doubt sent shock waves through the community.”
The judge said that if he were recommending on the handling of the case solely on the allegations, he would have kept Lee in the adult system. But Salant said he had to weigh other factors as required by law.
“Only a 15-year-old can look at this and think that somehow this was just a tradition, this was a team-building exercise,” Salant said.
The judge said that however horrible it has been to review the allegations, it’s been even worse to read statements from the victims.
One said he felt like everyone was watching him, according to prosecutors. Another wrote that people look at him differently. “I’m the kid who got the broom,” the victim stated.
In court Friday, Lee’s parents sat in the back row. As the judge made his ruling, his father gently leaned his head into his wife’s neck. Their son looked back to them.
The family “is thankful and focused on the days ahead,” said Jason Downs, an attorney for the teenager.
“The judge’s decision was thoroughly reasoned and consistent with law,” he said.