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A judge has dismissed a federal lawsuit accusing Baltimore County officials and UMBC, including its president, Freeman Hrabowski, of mishandling sexual assault claims and fostering a culture of indifference and bias toward victims.
A judge has dismissed a federal lawsuit accusing Baltimore County officials and UMBC, including its president, Freeman Hrabowski, of mishandling sexual assault claims and fostering a culture of indifference and bias toward victims. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by five women alleging that authorities in Baltimore County mishandled sexual assault investigations and fostered a culture of indifference and bias toward victims.

U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow granted defendants’ motions to dismiss the lawsuit Monday, finding that the women failed to show they had a case on a variety of claims described in their complaint, court records show.

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The decision doesn’t end the women’s case. Chasanow gave them three weeks to file a more narrow complaint.

The lawsuit, brought last year by women with ties to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, alleged that “there is a systematic, institutionalized indifference to crimes of sexual violence, coupled with bias against women” in Baltimore County.

An attorney representing the women said they would re-file.

“In accordance with the judge’s analysis, we will file another amended complaint,” attorney Rignal W. Baldwin V said. “We have no intention of giving up this fight.”

All five women said they were assaulted by UMBC students in separate incidents. Their lawsuit alleged discrimination on the basis of gender, saying authorities “have deprived female victims of sexual assault in Baltimore County of equal access to justice and of equal protection under the law.”

The lawsuit said police and prosecutors have discouraged women from reporting assaults. They also said officials concealed the true extent of sexual assault in Baltimore County by misclassifying crimes.

In a written opinion, Chasanow described the complaint as “verbose” and said the plaintiffs “at best, have masked meritorious allegations by the overambitious pleading, and, at worst, have simply failed to state any viable claim.”

Chasanow granted the plaintiffs 21 days to file “a more focused, perhaps modest” lawsuit.

The lawsuit named 22 defendants. They included UMBC and its police department; UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski; the county and its police department; county State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger; and a number of police officials. UMBC is a state institution separate from county government.

The Baltimore Sun typically does not identify victims who allege sexual assault.

Chasnaow found a number shortcomings in the complaint. For example, she said, the plaintiffs didn’t allege "any facts to support an inference that the investigative processes were the result of gender discrimination.” She also found that they didn’t back up claims of a conspiracy among all the defendants.

In February, amid criticism of the county’s handling of sexual assaults, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., a Democrat, formed a task force to review the way police and prosecutors conduct such investigations. The group is working on a final report.

“Regardless of the court’s ruling, we recognize our role and responsibility to ensure every victim of a sexual assault is treated fairly in Baltimore County,” Olszewski spokesman T.J. Smith said in a statement to The Sun.

Shellenberger declined to comment on the order Monday because the case is pending. A UMBC spokeswoman called the judge’s decision fair.

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“Our campus remains committed to acting on our conviction that sexual and gender-based violence will not be tolerated in our community,” said Lisa Akchin, UMBC’s associate vice president of engagement.

Baltimore Sun reporter Catherine Rentz contributed to this article.

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