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Teen pleads to second-degree rape in Damascus High School locker room assaults, according to people familiar with case

Damascus High School in Montgomery County, where members of the junior varsity football team were allegedly sexually assaulted with a broomstick by teammates in the fall.
Damascus High School in Montgomery County, where members of the junior varsity football team were allegedly sexually assaulted with a broomstick by teammates in the fall. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)
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A 15-year-old former football player at Maryland’s Damascus High School pleaded Thursday to rape and attempted-rape counts for his role in last fall’s broomstick assaults in the school’s locker room, according to three people familiar with the outcome of a closed hearing in Montgomery County Juvenile Court.

The teenager, who played on Damascus’s junior varsity team, is expected to return to court in two months for sentencing. He could be sent to a youth detention facility, placed on probation, or both.

The plea marked the first resolution in prosecutions against four members of the 2018 Damascus JV squad, all 15, who were indicted as adults in November. Each was charged with one count of first-degree rape and three counts of attempted first-degree rape.

Their attorneys then successfully argued to have the teens’ cases transferred to the juvenile court system, which is geared more toward rehabilitation than punishment.

The accusations over the locker room assaults on the afternoon of Oct. 31, jolted the high school of 1,300 students and football-proud Damascus, a community in the northern part of Montgomery County. The four victims, who also were teammates, were 14 or 15 years old at the time.

A football locker room, a broomstick and a sex assault case roil a school

The Washington Post generally does not identify youths charged in the juvenile system, where documents and records are kept confidential. Juvenile court hearings can be closed to the public, as was the case Thursday for all but a few opening minutes. The people who spoke to The Washington Post after learning the outcome did so on the condition of anonymity.

In Maryland, the crimes of first-degree rape and second-
degree rape — both felonies — cover a range of nonconsensual acts that can involve the body or use of an object. First-degree rape generally requires an aggravating factor such as the use of a weapon or infliction of serious bodily injury.

The teen in court Thursday pleaded to reduced charges — one count of second-degree rape and three counts of attempted second-degree rape, according to the three individuals familiar with the outcome. The plea meant that victims did not have to testify in a trial, and also allowed the youth to accept responsibility in front of the judge who eventually will sentence him.

The details of what prosecutors presented in closed session Thursday could not be learned.

But in an earlier court hearing when the cases still were in adult court, Montgomery Deputy State’s Attorney Peter Feeney said that about 3 p.m. on Oct. 31, some 30 minutes before the start of the last JV practice of the season, the lights went out in the freshman section of the locker room as players were changing into their gear.

Feeney said players could hear a broomstick being banged against a wall. “It’s time,” one of the assailants allegedly said, as Feeney recounted it in court.

Players on the team had heard about getting “the broom” or “brooming,” months earlier, but did not know the validity or gravity of the rumors, according to court records filed previously in the cases.

Parents angered by alleged locker room sex assault demand answers from officials

On the afternoon of the charged assaults, according to prosecutors, attackers pushed the broom handle several times through one boy’s underwear and into him. Two other boys were pinned and jabbed in their buttocks with the handle, and teammates knocked the fourth victim to the ground and stomped on him as he fought off the broom, prosecutors have said.

Players who tried to escape the room were met at the door by a suspect holding them back, prosecutors have said. The attacks probably lasted less than five minutes, according to police accounts.

In the first few minutes of Thursday’s hearing, Circuit Judge Mary Beth McCormick addressed the case status of another of the teens charged in the attacks.

That teen’s attorney, Jason Downs, asked McCormick to postpone a pending pretrial hearing for his client — an indication he and his client might be weighing a plea rather seeking a trial.

The teen “is still considering his options moving forward,” Downs said.

The hearing then was closed to the public after a request from David Felsen, a lawyer for the youth in court Thursday. Felsen asked the judge to close the courtroom to all but attorneys, family members of those charged and victims or their representatives.

“There are several issues of a very sensitive nature,” Felsen said. “There is the general principle that juvenile matters are confidential.”

Maryland high school locker room was unsupervised by coaches during 25 minutes when alleged locker room sex assaults occurred, school officials acknowledge

Prosecutors said they would defer to the judge’s decision.

Reporters covering the hearing from The Post, WUSA-9 and WJLA-7 spoke briefly in court, asserting the case was a matter of strong public interest.

“I do understand that this case is a matter of great public interest,” McCormick said, “and it’s been covered in the press a lot.”

But she came down with a decision to close the hearing because of the age of those involved, she said.

“At the end of the day, we have children on both sides who are the subject of this case,” the judge said.

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