A class action lawsuit filed in federal court alleges that Baltimore County prosecutors and detectives, as well as UMBC officials, covered up complaints of sexual assault.
Three women with ties to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County have joined a lawsuit against Baltimore County authorities that alleges systemic indifference to crimes of sexual violence and bias against women. One new plaintiff, a former UMBC student, alleged that she was raped by four UMBC basketball players on campus in 2014, according to the suit.
According to the lawsuit, the woman attended a party and woke up the next morning without any memory from the night before after consuming various beverages. Weeks later, she was told that four basketball players had "run a train on her and pass[ed] her around," according to the lawsuit. Two of the players were later expelled, but Baltimore County detectives and the state’s attorney’s office determined there was not evidence that a crime had occurred.
Another new plaintiff, a former UMBC student, said she was incapacitated last year when she was sexually assaulted by three UMBC baseball players at her home. The third plaintiff, a former University of Maryland at Baltimore student, said she was sexually assaulted by a UMBC graduate student who worked in her UMBC lab in 2016.
The two women already in the lawsuit are a Towson University student who said she was sexually assaulted by UMBC baseball players last year while she was incapacitated and a former UMBC student who said she was raped by another student on campus.
All plaintiffs were intoxicated at the time of their alleged sexual assaults, according to the lawsuit.
The Baltimore Sun does not name victims of alleged sexual assault.
Other new defendants include the UMBC Police Department and several current and former Baltimore County police detectives and officers.
Defendants already named in the lawsuit include Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger, the Baltimore County Police Department, UMBC and the Board of Regents for the University System of Maryland, among others.
On Nov. 15, two Baltimore County police detectives sat down at a Chick-fil-A to interview three University of Maryland, Baltimore County, baseball players accused of rape, according to investigative notes. The interviews, in total, lasted about an hour.
The lawsuit alleges that the women were treated with “indifference and disrespect” and that police intimidated them and discouraged them from reporting sexual assault. It says women were deprived of “equal access to justice and equal protection under the law.”
Defendants “conducted punitive investigations of victims while ignoring evidence implicating assailants,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also says authorities masked the true extent of rape by misclassifying sexual assault crimes.
For example, it says Baltimore County police defendants, working with the state’s attorney’s defendants, would “routinely and maliciously classify credible reports of sexual assault” either as as “unfounded” or cleared by “exceptional circumstances” without conducting any investigation of the reports, according to the lawsuit. It says the department has miscoded several reports as cleared due to “exceptional circumstances” to avoid dealing with scrutiny of “unfounded” cases.
The suit also alleges defendants would record credible reports of sexual assault as reports of “suspicious circumstances,” which are not reported to the FBI or disclosed in Clery Campus Crime Reports, annual reports required by federal law.
UMBC spokesperson Dinah Winnick responded to The Sun with the following statement: “UMBC does not discuss individual cases to protect the privacy of our students. However, it is the practice of the campus in all cases to handle the matter diligently, equitably, and consistent with university, state, and federal policies and procedures. Cases are managed by expert investigators and we receive assistance from the Office of the Attorney General of Maryland. Findings made through the University's adjudication process have resulted in serious disciplinary actions, including the suspension and expulsion of students.”
Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh filed a motion earlier this month on behalf of UMBC and its police chief, seeking dismissal of charges.
Hrabowski recently told The Sun that the school needs to do “much more” personal outreach, in the aftermath of the lawsuit.
“I’m saying that, while we thought we were doing the right things with the legal side, we had not really addressed [the] human side” of Title IX,” Hrabowski said.
To that end, Hrabowski said on Friday that UMBC would start implementing mandatory training for students, faculty and staff on campus. He said the training would be in-person and live, rather than only online, and would focus on areas such as trauma, prevention and what happens during the reporting process after an incident.
Shellenberger and Baltimore County police both declined to discuss the allegations, citing the lawsuit. Last year, Baltimore County pledged to reform the way it conducts sexual assault investigations.
The circumstances in Catherine Becket's case underscore a number of shortcomings and inconsistencies in how police departments across Maryland handle rape cases, a Baltimore Sun investigation has found. Evidence has been destroyed in hundreds of cases, complaints are discarded at a high rate, police policies and procedures vary widely between jurisdictions, and victim advocates say Maryland's law creates confusion about when cases can proceed.