Four teens charged as adults in alleged high school locker room assaults, police say

The Washington Post

Four teenagers have been charged as adults with first-degree rape and other counts in an alleged locker room attack on football teammates at Damascus High School, Montgomery County police said Wednesday.

A fifth teen remains charged as a juvenile with second-degree rape.

The charges stem from what police have said was an incident Oct. 31 involving junior varsity football players at the school.

The attacks described in court records allegedly took place after school was dismissed at Damascus High, a football powerhouse on the northern end of suburban Montgomery County. Four juvenile male victims have been identified, police have said.

The school principal notified police Nov. 1 of “an assault involving a broom,” according to court records. The records also state that one suspect told investigators that members of the JV team discussed the incidents in the locker room in a group chat on the Snapchat messaging application.

The alleged assaults were part of a hazing ritual at the school, according to the accounts of suspects and victims detailed in a police report.

The suspects, members of the JV squad, attacked teammates in a locker room after turning off the lights, the account in the police report and court records stated.

Two victims reported being pinned down, according to court records.

Until they are charged as adults, juveniles are not named in public court filings.

Police named the four suspects charged as adults as:

● Jean Claude Abedi, 15, of Clarksburg: He is charged with two counts of first-degree rape, two counts of attempted first-degree rape and two counts of conspiracy to commit first-degree rape, according to court records.

● Kristian Jamal Lee, 15, of Germantown: He is charged with two counts of first-degree rape, two counts of attempted first-degree rape and two counts of conspiracy to commit first-degree rape, court records show.

● Will Daniel Smith, 15, of Clarksburg: He is charged with two counts of first-degree rape, two counts of attempted first-degree rape and two counts of conspiracy to commit first-degree rape, according to court records.

● Caleb Thorpe, 15, of Gaithersburg: He is charged with four counts of first-degree rape and four counts of conspiracy to commit first-degree rape, court records show.

The four were arrested on the adult charges Wednesday morning, police said in a statement. They were ordered held on no bond status at the county jail.

In Maryland, the charge of first-degree rape generally requires an aggravating factor, such as multiple assailants or the use of a weapon. The law covers a range of nonconsensual acts that can involve the body or use of an object.

Abedi’s mother declined to comment Wednesday. Daniel Wright, an attorney for Abedi, said that “he intends to plead not guilty. He comes from a strong family background and has the support of his family.”

Smith’s mother declined to comment through her son’s attorney, David Felsen, who said Smith has no previous criminal record, entered Damascus last year as a freshman and has had no disciplinary problems.

“He’s a very good student,” Felsen said, “always respectful to teachers and adults and gets good grades.”

Felsen said the cases should have remained in juvenile court, “where there are more services available, and the court is better equipped to deal with such young kids.” And he criticized the timing of the adult charges.

Due to holiday court closings, the suspects will remain in an adult jail for five days before attorneys have a chance to ask a judge to release them on bond or have them moved to a juvenile detention facility. “We are disappointed that the state’s attorney’s office chose to deal with Will’s case in this manner,” Felsen said.

Greg Milton, an attorney for Lee, declined to comment. An attorney for Thorpe could not be reached for comment.

Parents of the other accused teens could not be found or reached for comment.

Thomas DeGonia, a lawyer representing the families of two of the reported victims said police and prosecutors “have been very professional and have been as responsive as they can be to us, given the horrible allegations of the case,” DeGonia said. He declined to comment on the specific allegations, the suspects or the decision to charge them as adults.

“The families are trusting the State’s Attorney’s Office to pursue the case in a manner that best seeks justice,” he said.

Pilar C. Nichols, an attorney for the family of another of the teens who reported being assaulted, said that “it’s a very sad, terrible situation all the way around.”

“They’re doing as best as can be expected,” she said of her clients. “This has been shocking and devastating to the families of the victims.”

She said the allegations also have been difficult for the Damascus community. “I think everyone is shocked,” she said.

Nichols declined to comment on the suspects or whether they were following a hazing practice.

School district officials have said they were cooperating with the police investigation and are committed to students’ safety.

On Wednesday, Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Jack R. Smith said the school system will continue to cooperate with the police investigation and provide support to the Damascus community.

“Our thoughts are with the students, staff and all who have been affected,” Smith said.

After the Damascus allegations surfaced, the school system said it was looking into whether a culture of hazing and bullying is widespread in Montgomery’s 25 high schools. Officials have asked coaches, athletic directors and student-activity sponsors to discuss the issue with students to learn more about the nature and extent of problems.

Smith in a media briefing Monday said the school system would be looking into issues of supervision at Damascus after the police wrap up their investigation. He said “some actions” had been taken “with adults” but did not clarify who or what was done. “Those are personnel issues at this point,” he said.

Smith said he did not know whether reports about a tradition of hazing at Damascus were credible.

“Let’s wait until the police and the state’s attorney do their work,” he said. “We will simultaneously investigate that.”

The new charges were a development that stunned many in the schools community.

“I’m dismayed and really, really saddened,” said Sunil Dasgupta, a father of three from Rockville who serves as chair of the health and safety committee of the countywide council of PTAs. “The whole thing is just so utterly saddening,”

The charges raise larger questions, he said. “I would have questions about how we failed as adults in supporting our students,” he said.

He called for greater efforts on how coaches and staff are trained and children are educated about health and safety in the wake of the allegations. “We as a school system need to commit to education and training about school climate and safety to make sure something like this does not happen again,” he said.

The new aspect of the Damascus case “is incredibly troubling,” said Lynne Harris, president of the countywide council of PTAs.

She said the school system needs to create a mechanism for students to safely report incidents or concerns about locker room culture — and that it should involve students in that effort. At the same time, she said, school officials should work to ensure coaches are trained in how to create a respectful culture in locker rooms and be a model of that to students.

She and others voiced support for prevention programs, including Coaching Boys Into Men and Athletes as Leaders, already used in a handful of schools in Montgomery. Those efforts need to expand and be made mandatory, she said. “I would like to see us have a plan in place by the first of the year,” she said.

Alice Crites contributed to this article.

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