A member of Seneca Valley High School’s 2018 junior varsity football team says in a lawsuit that teammates raped him in an unsupervised locker room and school officials didn’t do enough to prevent the attack. The allegations were made in a civil suit filed in March in Montgomery County Circuit Court on behalf of the student’s family.
The player says in the lawsuit that he was raped on Sept. 17, 2018 – about one month before four football players at Damascus High School were sexually assaulted by their teammates. The Damascus attack also allegedly happened in an unsupervised locker room.
The Seneca Valley lawsuit alleges that officials at the Germantown high school were negligent in not taking steps to prevent the attack, despite knowing that sexual assaults had happened in other Montgomery County high school locker rooms.
It alleges that football players pulled the student’s pants and underwear down and “penetrated, touched, assaulted and slapped” him in the locker room before practice. The student, a minor, is identified as “John Doe” in court documents.
The lawsuit names the defendants as the Montgomery County Board of Education, Seneca Valley Athletic Director Jesse Irvin, Principal Marc Cohen, varsity coach Fred Kim and junior varsity coach Cody Martin.
The lawsuit was filed a month after three of the four Damascus victims filed a civil suit in circuit court against the Board of Education and school officials. A fourth plaintiff in the suit said he was sexually assaulted in a Damascus team locker room during a separate incident in 2017.
The victims claimed, through their attorneys, that school system and Damascus High employees failed to protect students from a culture of sexual assaults in the football program out of fear it might compromise the program’s image.
The Damascus lawsuit alleges that school officials knew about a tradition, starting in 2016, of sophomore football players sodomizing freshman players with brooms.
That lawsuit also makes passing reference to the alleged Seneca Valley assault and an alleged sexual assault at Gaithersburg High School in 2018.
In March, MCPS spokesman Derek Turner referred all questions about the alleged Seneca Valley and Gaithersburg High sexual assaults to a statement the school system issued after the Damascus lawsuit was filed in February.
“The lawsuits filed today raise a series of additional allegations about prior hazing and sexual assaults — many of which have never been reported to MCPS leadership,” it said.
“We trust that the attorneys who filed the lawsuits have shared their allegations with law enforcement. If they have not, we sincerely hope they will immediately share any evidence they may have uncovered so it can be fully vetted, as part of the State’s Attorney’s Office’s ongoing investigation.”
When asked about the alleged Seneca Valley and Gaithersburg high incidents, Ramon Korionoff, a spokesman for the State’s Attorney’s Office, wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat that he “can’t comment on those matters at this time.”
A memorandum of understanding between the school board and multiple law enforcement agencies, including Montgomery County police, existed before the alleged Seneca Valley incident, according to court documents. The agreement said “MCPS shall immediately notify the appropriate law enforcement agency” when rapes happen at a school.
The Seneca Valley lawsuit alleges that school officials did not report the incident to police for four days.
Turner told Bethesda Beat on Friday that the Seneca Valley incident was reported first as an assault, but it was not immediately clear whether it was a sexual assault. MCPS contacted the Montgomery County Police Department’s Special Victims Investigations Division, but the student didn’t pursue criminal charges, Turner said.
“What we understand is that the alleged victim did not cooperate with law enforcement and therefore no further action was taken through the criminal system,” he said.
Turner said Martin, the JV coach, was suspended for one game following the alleged attack and the school “took disciplinary action” against the players who were involved. He would not elaborate on what type of discipline they received.
The lawsuit states that Martin and Kim, the former varsity team coach, were fired because of the alleged incident. But Turner told Bethesda Beat in an email that Martin resigned to take a different job and Kim was “relieved of his coaching responsibilities” for reasons unrelated to the incident.
Cohen, the principal, and Irvin, the athletic director, are still employed at Seneca Valley, Turner wrote.
Kim, Irvin and Cohen referred all questions about the lawsuit to MCPS’s public information office.
Attempts to reach Board of Education President Shebra Evans and Vice President Brenda Wolff this week were unsuccessful.
Turner said MCPS received praise from the student’s family following the allegations.
“We even received thank you letters from the alleged victim’s parents multiple times for our support and our role in taking care of the child,” he said.
Turner said the lawsuit is “surprising,” but MCPS is not taking a position on the student’s allegation that he was raped.
“We’re not arguing with what he’s saying, saying he’s right or wrong. We’re saying what we know is what we were told at the time. We’re not in the business of disputing the allegations of a victim,” he said.
The Seneca Valley lawsuit states that in July 2018, MCPS was notified of an alleged sexual assault that happened in the Gaithersburg High locker room on Feb. 8 of that year and that it was “part of a hazing ritual.” County police investigated the allegation, the lawsuit says.
Capt. Tom Jordan, a police spokesman, wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat that the department’s Special Victims Investigation Division investigated. He would not comment further.
“We do not comment on cases of this nature involving juveniles,” he wrote.
Also in July 2018, MCPS issued a memo to coaches and athletic directors that said “coaches must supervise student-athletes at all times” before and after practices and games, according to court documents.
The Seneca Valley lawsuit alleges that school officials did not follow the policies outlined in the memo.
“[D]espite having knowledge of these sexual assaults occurring in football locker rooms and despite the duty to supervise, no corrective action was taken by the defendants relating to proper supervision of the locker room sexual assaults,” the lawsuit states.
Turner, in an email in February to Bethesda Beat in response to the Damascus lawsuit, wrote that it raises “a series of additional allegations about prior hazing and sexual assaults — many of which have never been reported to MCPS leadership.”
On Friday, Turner clarified that he was not referring to the alleged Seneca Valley incident in his previous comment.
“Clearly we knew about that allegation. But we didn’t know it was considered a rape in the mind of the student,” he said.
Amid the fallout of the Damascus rapes, MCPS hired the law firm WilmerHale to conduct an independent review of MCPS policies and procedures when a student reports a sexual assault. The $250,000 study found “no evidence of widespread hazing or sexual assault” in high school athletics, but “did not perform a comprehensive, historical review of unreported incidents.”
WilmerHale said other reports of bullying or sexual assault in MCPS extracurricular activities were “relatively minor and were quickly and appropriately addressed.”
Thomas DeGonia, an attorney for the plaintiff in the Seneca Valley case, said in an interview Wednesday morning that the student remains in MCPS, but attends a different school.
He said the student felt comfortable coming forward after the details of the Damascus rape case came to light. DeGonia also represents the plaintiffs in the Damascus civil case.
The Seneca Valley case is largely on hold while the county’s court system is closed during the coronavirus pandemic, he said. Although hearings are scheduled, he thinks the dates will likely change.
“Once we reopen and we start to get into a regular schedule, things will progress and the discovery process will start,” DeGonia said.
A scheduling hearing is planned in the Seneca Valley suit for June 12, and discovery is scheduled to be completed by early December, according to court records.
The four Damascus players accused of assaulting their teammates on Halloween 2018 were charged with first-degree rape, attempted rape and conspiracy. Because they were prosecuted as minors, court proceedings were closed to the public and their pleas and sentences are not known.
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Staff writer Caitlynn Peetz contributed to this story.