The principal of a Maryland high school announced Tuesday that she is stepping down six months after a locker room sexual assault case raised questions about whether football players were adequately supervised and whether the attack was properly reported to police.
Casey Crouse, who led Damascus High School for two years during a decade-long career as a principal, said in a letter that she will part ways with the Montgomery County school immediately and take another role in the school system.
The locker room attacks, according to authorities, involved members of the junior varsity football team who allegedly sexually assaulted four teammates with a broomstick a day before their season’s last game.
“The horrific incident of October 31 has demanded significant attention from school and system leadership and has drawn ongoing negative media attention,” Crouse, 48, wrote.
“It has become clear that in order for Damascus High School to move forward, it will require new school leadership,” the principal wrote, noting that an acting principal has been named to take over until the school year’s end.
Her announcement came amid a continuing staffing shake-up at the school. Athletic director Joseph Doody was placed on administrative leave Tuesday, and junior varsity football coach Vincent Colbert was placed on leave in mid-April.
School officials said in separate letters to parents and school staff members that each was placed on leave “as part of an ongoing investigation into supervision of the boys’ locker room on Oct. 31, 2018.” The actions were described as personnel moves “to ensure investigations can proceed efficiently and without the appearance of prejudice.”
The alleged assaults jolted the high school of 1,300 students and football-proud Damascus, a community in the northern and more rural portion of Montgomery County.
Six players were charged with rape or attempted rape, or both. The victims and suspects were 14 or 15 years old at the time of the alleged assaults.
The school system has said it is looking into how officials at the school handled the case after they first learned about it. The Washington Post reported in March that school officials waited more than 12 hours to tell police about credible allegations that at least one player had been sexually assaulted with a broomstick.
During that time, Crouse initiated an in-house investigation at the school that led to victims and suspects being pulled from their classes to give statements to school administrators before trained police detectives were brought in.
In an email to parents March 31, Crouse briefly described how she reacted the night of Oct. 31 after learning about what she said was a “behavior of concern” earlier that day in the locker room. She wrote that she and others took actions “based on the information we had at the time” and adjusted appropriately as they learned more.
Reaction to Crouse’s departure announcement was mixed.
Alaina Dahlin, a Damascus parent, credited Crouse for positive changes during her two years as principal but said that published reports suggest she erred in not calling police the evening after the locker room attacks.
“It’s such a mess,” Dahlin said. “It will be nice for everyone to start fresh.”
Julina Salazar, the owner of Hair Razors, a hair salon two blocks north of Damascus High School, said customers and salon staffers spoke about Crouse all afternoon on Tuesday. Her 16-year-old son attends Damascus High. Her 19-year-old daughter did until recently.
Salazar said the principal’s delay in calling police upset her and many of her friends. The principal had become a distraction, and her stepping down will be good for the school, she said.
“It had to happen,” Salazar said. “No one trusts her anymore. She is a distraction.”
School officials continue to look into locker room supervision issues, along with whether Damascus officials, staff members and coaches properly reported the alleged assaults. At the same time, county prosecutors are examining whether there were similar “brooming” attacks in the past at Damascus.
Lynne Harris, president of Montgomery’s countywide council of PTAs, said she is interested in learning more about the investigation of Oct. 31 and “what appears to be a complete violation of Montgomery County Public Schools child protection policy by key members of the Damascus High School administration.”
The attacks came to light the evening of Oct. 31, when one of the victims told his father what happened to him. The father then called Colbert, the JV coach, according to statements the father and Colbert gave to police.
Colbert, 54, quickly spoke with Eric Wallich, the varsity head coach. Colbert called the father back twice, at one point telling him police would have to be involved, according to statements Colbert and the father gave to detectives. That same night, Wallich passed information about the alleged assault to Doody, the athletic director, and to Crouse, according to a group text message seen by The Post.
None of the four called the police that night, according to statements given to detectives and court hearings.
School officials said Tuesday that Wallich, the varsity coach, remains on the job.
Crouse, Doody and Wallich have previously declined interview requests about the case. Schools spokesman Derek Turner said Tuesday that they had no comment.
Victor Del Pino, an attorney for Colbert, said he was disappointed in the decision to put his client on leave. “Mr. Colbert hasn’t done anything wrong,” Del Pino said. “Hopefully, he will be back to coaching soon.”
But Billy Murphy, an attorney for one of the victims and his family, countered that questions about supervision are central to the case.
“Had coaches been in the locker room, supervising the players, this rape and these attempted rapes would not have happened,” Murphy said.
Of the criminal cases against the six students — all charged in early November — one was quickly dropped. Another stayed in juvenile court. Cases against four of the teens were moved to adult court before court hearings that moved them back to juvenile court this year.