Montgomery County school officials have acknowledged that a football locker room at Damascus High School went unsupervised during a 25-minute period when alleged sexual assaults with a broomstick took place Oct. 31 among teammates.
School officials also announced Tuesday that they removed the school’s athletic director and junior varsity football coach from their positions.
The shake-up of the storied football program at the Maryland school of about 1,300 students comes days after parents confronted elected school board members about what actions the school system was taking in response to the incident that resulted in criminal sexual assault cases.
Superintendent Jack R. Smith said in a community letter that JV coaches arrived late to their jobs and did not ensure other adults would supervise the locker room in their absence, according to findings of an internal school system investigation. During that unmonitored time, authorities have said, four players were sexually assaulted with a broomstick in attacks that led to charges of rape, attempted rape or both against six of their teammates.
The victims and suspects were 14 or 15 years old at the time of the alleged attacks.
The letter also said the football program would be under probationary review by the school system athletics unit next season in an effort to bring heightened monitoring and make sure local and state rules are followed. Damascus High’s varsity football program was on a winning streak at the time of the reported assaults and had won three state titles in a row.
The varsity program’s head coach, Eric Wallich, will remain and lead the program, officials said.
Smith’s email came five days after the public meeting of the county’s school board. At that meeting, frustrated parents demanded answers about how Damascus staff responded to the reported assaults and when school officials contacted trained sexual assault investigators from the county police department.
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 those hours, Principal Casey Crouse initiated an in-house investigation at the school that led to victims and suspects being pulled from their classes to give statements to administrators before police detectives were brought in.
Smith said in his letter that while “in hindsight, it is of course possible to second guess complex and evolving circumstances,” the school system’s investigation of when its administrators learned of events and brought in police sexual assault investigators has “concluded that there is insufficient evidence at this time to suggest undue delay in reporting the incident.”
Smith’s letter said that “looking at the events of that evening as reported by the media, some may criticize this finding and argue that school staff should have reported more quickly, even if some details remained unsettled and unclear.”
Crouse abruptly announced a week ago that she would leave the high school to become an administrator on special assignment in human resources at the school district’s headquarters.
Tuesday’s announcement also follows disclosures that two officials — junior varsity coach Vincent Colbert and athletic director Joseph Doody — had been placed on administrative leave.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday evening, Smith said Colbert, who also coached bocce and indoor softball teams geared toward special-needs students, would not be retained for any of the programs.
“We’re extremely upset and disappointed,” Colbert’s attorney, Victor Del Pino, said Tuesday night. “Vinny appreciates the tremendous amount of support he has received from the community.”
Doody has been removed as athletic director at Damascus and will not be serving as an athletic director in the school system, Smith said at a news conference Tuesday. Smith said Doody “is currently a teacher in the system.” Asked whether Doody would continue teaching, Smith said “the athletic director will not be teaching at Damascus High School in the future.”
Doody did not reply to a text message seeking comment Tuesday.
Smith’s email stated school officials could not provide details of specific personnel actions but said the school system is “taking appropriate disciplinary action” and is looking to fill JV coaching staff and athletic director positions.
“I know this incident and the subsequent investigations have caused sadness, frustration, and anxiety in the community,” Smith wrote.
The alleged attacks were completed quickly, as the accused assailants moved from one victim to another, according to court records.
The alleged attacks came to light the evening of Oct. 31, when one of the victims told his father what happened to him and the father called Colbert, the JV coach, according to statements the father and Colbert gave to police.
Colbert spoke with the varsity head coach, who passed information about the alleged assault to 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.
Smith said in the letter that each coach and staff member responded in keeping with school system procedures based on what they knew and understood that night.
He said that communications, including text messages, had been examined.
But his letter did not directly address a group text message — seen by The Post — saying that a player had been pinned and his pants forced down while another player tried to poke him with a broom handle. That message named a victim and two alleged assailants.
Speaking to reporters, Smith said there was more to school officials’ communications that night than the text messages.
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“In the context of everything that was said and reported by the people who said it to one another, that did not indicate a sexual assault at that time,” Smith said.
Asked what was said in addition to the text messages, Smith said: “I don’t think I can be any more clear. In the context of everything that was said, it didn’t indicate a sexual assault. And there was a lot said. And I frankly can’t share that information at this time.”
School system officials said their investigation into supervision issues and reporting practices included interviews with coaches and Damascus High staff, along with a review of policies and documents.
The letter said the school system investigation showed “a lack of clear supervision expectations and a player supervision plan for the junior varsity team at Damascus High School.” It called the lack of protocols in place to ensure locker room coverage “unacceptable.”
As the school system’s internal review proceeded, county prosecutors have been examining whether there were similar “brooming” attacks in the past at Damascus.
The reaction to the case has been mixed in Damascus, located in the more rural, northern part of Montgomery County. Some have urged that coaches and administrators be held responsible. Others have said they are unfairly blamed.
Two weeks ago, Damascus resident Christi Baisden started an online petition at change.org to support football coaches keeping their jobs. “This coaching staff has been positively impacting our players and community for over 30 years,” the petition stated. As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 1,800 people had signed on.