Montgomery County Public Schools will pay $9.7 million in a settlement for lawsuits filed by families of four former Damascus High School football players who said they were sexually assaulted with broomsticks wielded by teammates in 2017 and 2018 in the locker room.
This largely stems from an incident on Oct. 31, 2018, when the junior varsity team locker room was left unsupervised for 25 minutes before practice, according to previous reporting.
The lawsuit, filed in 2020, alleged that Damascus High School staff and MCPS officials knew about the culture of sexual assault in the football program for years but failed to intervene because they did not want to damage the reputation of its prestigious football team.
Most of the settlement money will go to the victims of the 2018 incident, but a smaller payment will go to the family of another player attacked in the locker room in 2017, according to Tom DeGonia, an attorney for one of the families involved in the lawsuit.
Timothy Maloney, an attorney for one of the families, told MoCo on Friday in an email statement that this was a crucial part of the case.
“At Damascus High School, football was king. Discipline, locker room security and student safety went out the window,” Maloney said. “The settlement recognizes the egregious sexual assaults that occurred right in the school building because of this lack of supervision.”
However, Maloney said that in the settlement, “the County expressly denied liability.”
The lawsuit named the Board of Education and Damascus High School staff including former Principal Casey Crouse, former coaches Vincent Colbert and Eric Wallich and former Athletic Director Joe Doody as defendants.
During a Feb. 6, 2020 press conference, DeGonia said that school officials knew about the tradition of “brooming,” where sophomore football players would “terrorize freshman football players by threatening to, and at times sodomizing the younger players with the broom.”
DeGonia told MoCo360 on Friday over the phone that even though this settlement will help the victims, it does not erase what happened.
“The settlement doesn’t correct the failures from five years ago, nor excuse them, but it allows these families to now begin to move forward with their lives,” DeGonia said. “Certainly, the settlement reflects the gravity of what happened to these families.”
Malcolm Ruff, an attorney for two of the victims, did not immediately respond to request for comment on Friday afternoon.
The four 15-year-olds accused of sexually assaulting their teammates were charged as adults with first-degree rape, attempted rape and conspiracy charges. Since their cases were tried in juvenile court, with proceedings closed to the public, their pleas and sentences are not publicly available.
On May 15, U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte ruled that the lawsuits would move forward in the judicial process and if a settlement was not reached, the case could go to a three-week jury trial in February 2024 in federal court in Greenbelt. At the time, attorneys said that damages could exceed $1 million.
Since the 2018 incident, MCPS has “taken extensive measures to prevent such incidents from happening in the future,” MCPS spokesperson Aisha Mbowe told MoCo in an email statement Friday.
“The district fully understands the importance of maintaining a safe and respectful environment in all of our school spaces,” Mbowe said. “We are committed to creating a secure environment where every student feels safe and respected.”
Mbowe said that there was a new protocol instituted in 2018, and school and athletic staff are trained each year on it.
“This is protocol rooted in an increase in monitoring and oversight of all locker rooms across our school district,” Mbowe said.