Douglass student charged in beating of football teammate

A member of Frederick Douglass High School's football team was charged with attempted murder Thursday in a brutal attack on a teammate, thrusting the school once again into an unwanted national spotlight.

The attack, which left the victim hospitalized and facing surgery, was captured on video and posted online. In it, a student is seen repeatedly punching another in the head and face and then stomping on the bloodied teen's head.


School system officials suspended activities at Douglass, and more than a dozen city police officers and a Foxtrot helicopter were sent to oversee Thursday afternoon's dismissal.

The attention to Douglass — the second-oldest integrated school in the nation, which boasts alumni such as former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall — comes as the West Baltimore school is seeking to reclaim its identity as a nationally recognized success story.


Douglass had been recognized as a model last year by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan for its improvements in reducing suspensions, increasing attendance and creating programs.

But the school became a backdrop to the unrest that erupted in April after the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who suffered a severe spinal injury while in police custody. Douglass students were among the protesters who engaged in a violent exchange with police at Mondawmin Mall, which is across the street from the school. Officials blamed the incident for sparking riots and looting across the city.

In this week's assault, Sean Johnson, 17, faces attempted murder, assault and other charges, according to the Baltimore state's attorneys office. He was charged as an adult and held without bond Thursday. The victim was not identified.

As video of Wednesday's assault went viral Thursday, school system officials gathered at Douglass to provide support.

"It was business as usual at Douglass High School today because the children are very resilient," said Karl Perry, chief of school support for the district. "It was a very calm day, and we remained on course."

The district suspended after-school activities at the school and postponed a Friday-night football game between Douglass and Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. The schools, both state finalists last season, were to meet for the first time since 2012. The game was among the most anticipated in Baltimore football this fall.

Perry said the only complaint he heard from a student Thursday was from a teen upset about his grade in geometry class. A few staff members expressed frustration about the negative attention the beating brought to the school as it tried to start fresh in a new school year.

City Councilman Nick Mosby, who visited Douglass' football practice on the first day of school last month, said Thursday he addressed the team because members are looked to as "climate leaders" at the school. He called the video he saw Thursday "really disturbing and unfortunate."


"Douglass is full of some amazing, very talented and smart children, and unfortunately they've gotten a bad [reputation]," he said.

"If folks really rallied around our children, they will be great. When we see incidents like this — I just hope it doesn't prevent folks from continuing to reach out to them."

On April 27, the day of Gray's funeral, school officials said about 100 Douglass students walked out. They were met by police with helmets and riot shields. The students had no way to get home because transit officials had suspended service at the Mondawmin Mall transportation hub.

Two students were arrested in the unrest. In the months since, Douglass leaders, educators and teachers have voiced frustration about the school of more than 800 students being defined by the actions of a few.

On Thursday afternoon, city schools CEO Gregory Thornton and Douglass staff walked among the throng of students chatting and waiting for their buses.

Students did not seem jarred by Wednesday's attack, Thornton said, adding, "Unfortunately, they see it as normal."


A new principal, Kelvin Bridgers, appointed to lead the school this year, was credited by Perry for the school's smooth day.

In a letter sent home to parents, Bridgers called the video "deeply disturbing."

He wrote that he had spoken with students about Douglass' expectations, and because of the "brutal nature of this incident" assured them that counselors would be in the school if they felt anxious and afraid.

"Student well-being is our top priority, and fighting and violence simply will not be tolerated," Bridgers wrote.

According to charging documents, Johnson attacked a teammate he thought might have stolen a piece from his football helmet. A woman who answered at the phone number listed for Johnson declined to comment. No attorney was listed for him in court records.

According to charging documents, the attack occurred after Johnson approached his teammate in the cafeteria and asked if he stole the visor from his football helmet.


After the victim repeatedly denied having taken it, Johnson began "hitting [him] in the face causing him to fall to the floor unconscious," charging documents said.

Breaking News Alerts

Breaking News Alerts

As it happens

Be informed of breaking news as it happens and notified about other don't-miss content with our free news alerts.

A school police officer wrote that when he and other staff members dispersed the crowd, the victim "was having a seizure while lying in a pool of his own blood."

The student suffered a concussion, facial cuts and bruises, a nose fracture and swelling, according to charging documents, which said he would need surgery to repair damage to his face.

In a statement, school officials said the incident took place about noon and that staff intervened immediately to break up the fight.

School officials said the victim was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma and later transferred to University of Maryland Medical Center. School officials said he was reported in stable condition Thursday.

Baltimore Sun reporters Colin Campbell, Justin Fenton and Katherine Dunn contributed to this article.