Maryland judge moves case of another suspect in school locker room broomstick attack to juvenile court

The Washington Post

A Maryland judge presiding over the sexual assault cases stemming from alleged broomstick attacks in a football locker room ordered a teenage suspect’s case transferred to juvenile court, the third such move in the court proceedings.

Caleb Thorpe, who last fall was a student at Damascus High School, where the reported attacks occurred, would be best served by treatment offered in the juvenile system, according to a ruling Thursday by Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Steven G. Salant. He noted that Thorpe was just two months past his 15th birthday at the time of the Oct. 31 events in as described by investigators.

Thorpe was among four teens charged as adults with one count of first-degree rape and three counts of attempted first-degree rape. The four played for the junior varsity football team at Damascus and are accused of attacking four teammates before their final day of practice.

“The juvenile brain, particularly at this age, is still growing and developing,” Salant said in explaining his decision and quoting an expert on hazing, bullying and sexual harassment who had evaluated Thorpe on behalf of his defense attorney and submitted a report to the judge.

The juvenile court system is geared toward rehabilitation, with punishment often imposed as probation and with no public conviction left on the record.

After the charges were filed in adult court in November, the teen suspects asked Salant to move their cases to juvenile court. He has granted three of the requests. The final request is set to be argued at a hearing Tuesday.

After court Thursday, Thorpe’s attorney, Shelly Brown, said the judge’s decision was correct and fair. “My client — he’s feeling a sigh of relief,” Brown said.

In Maryland, first-degree rape covers a range of nonconsensual acts that can involve the body or use of an object. Prosecutors have indicated in court that not every teen needed to have been handling the broomstick to support being charged on the rape counts.

“Each defendant played a significant role in carrying out their plan to sexually assault the victims in this case, whether it was pushing, punching, stomping, holding down, tackling or wielding the broom,” Montgomery County Deputy State’s Attorney Peter Feeney said in court late last year. “The crimes could only have been committed with the active participation of each defendant.”

Salant has deplored the assaults.

But he distinguished Thorpe’s alleged role, which has been described in court records as pushing the targeted victims and helping pin them on the ground.

“He was acting as part of a group, assisting others,” Salant said.

Quoting a report from the defense expert, Salant said Thorpe appeared to have been led by others.

“Caleb, a follower by nature, blindly obeyed the instructions of the leaders of the JV football team,” Salant said.

Since the case broke, it has raised the question of whether “brooming” was a tradition or ritual among the Damascus football team.

Salant said in court Thursday that records in the case indicate there were at least two broomstick attacks in 2017. The judge did not discuss details, but said students apparently did not tell coaches about the attacks, possibly because of what he called a “code of silence” that can take hold.

More coverage of crime and courts in Montgomery County from The Washington Post's Dan Morse »

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
45°