A Montgomery County Circuit Judge ordered the four, 15-year-old Damascus football players, charged with the rape and attempted rape of their teammates be released on bond on Monday after prosecutors outlined the violent and shocking details of the attacks in court.
Deputy State’s Attorney Peter Feeney told District Court Judge John Moffett the details of the attack that prosecutors say took place before the Damascus junior varsity football team was to have the final practice of the season on Oct. 31. Prosecutors say the four boys, who are being charged as adults, and fifth boy still charged but as a juvenile attacked four freshmen in the locker room at Damascus High School, beating and stomping the victims, and anally raping one victim with a wooden broomstick, and attempting to do the same to three others.
Feeney said the four teens have each been charged with one count of First Degree Rape, three counts Attempted First Degree Rape, and one count of Conspiracy to Commit Rape.
Feeney presented amended charges in court today, which differs from the initial charges filed last Wednesday. The initial charges included two rapes, and two attempted rapes, and one count of Conspiracy to Commit Rape. At a press conference after the bond hearing, State’s Attorney John McCarthy explained that his office did not believe the initial charges were supported by the findings of the investigation, so the charges were amended.
The four 15-year-olds — Jean Claude Abedi, age 15, of Clarksburg, Kristian Jamal Lee, age 15, of Germantown, Will Daniel Smith, age 15, of Clarksburg, and Caleb Thorpe, age 15, of Gaithersburg, appeared in court via video link from Charles H. Hickey, Jr. School — a secure juvenile detention center in Parkville, Md.
After hearing the details, Judge Moffett ordered each of the teens released on $20,000 unsecured bond, with parents co-signing for the bond, but under a number of conditions. The boys are not to return to Damascus High School. The four are not to have any sort of contact with each other or any of the victims or other witnesses in the case. Each teen will be under a curfew which will be enforced by Montgomery County Pre-trial Services through electronic monitoring. All four defendants were also ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation.
According to court documents, at about 2:30 pm, 20 minutes before practice began on Oct. 31, “Will Smith came into the locker room with the broom. Abedi stated that Will Smith said, ‘Let’s give the freshmen the broom.”
The “brooming” of freshman by sophomores was a “tradition” according to the charging documents. The defendants — Abedi, Smith, Lee, and Thorpe — who are all sophomores, entered the locker room, with Smith “pumping the boom in the air. The lights in the locker room were shut off, and the sophomores began to attack the first victim. They threw the victim to the floor, one of the sophomores held his feet as the victim was face down on the floor, as another attacker pulled the victim’s “pants down to his knees and proceeded to poke his buttocks with the wooden broomstick,” according to court documents.
The victim stated that the broomstick “was inserted into his anus a few inches.” The victim said, “it hurt, and he knew that the broomstick went into his anus. The victim stated that Abedi and Lee were both laughing, while the victim was shouting “Let me go.” Thorpe confessed to investigators that sat on the victim during the attack. The attackers removed the broomstick and proceeded to attack another member of the team in the locker room.
The second attack was similar according to court documents, the attackers held the second victim face down on a bench and pulled his football pants and boxer shorts down. The victim told police that “someone then put the broomstick between buttocks and ‘stabbed’ his buttocks several times with the tip of the broomstick.” However, this victim did not think the broomstick had penetrated his anus. He described the broomstick as a wooden handle with a ‘cut on the tip of it.” The second victim told investigators that when he told his attackers to stop they replied that it was “tradition,” according to the charging documents.
Feeney told the court that the second victim told investigators that he and the other victims were signaled out because they were “soft.” “We are not as good as the other kids on the team,” was the quote that Feeney relayed to the court.
The attackers attempted to “broom” a third victim, but he was struggling too much, and someone in the locker room yelled ‘Coach is coming,’ and everyone ran away.”
Prosecutors say that that the sophomores moved on to a fourth victim in the locker room. The attackers pulled the victim’s “hooded sweatshirt over his head, punched him in the face, knocked him on his back, and stomped on him,” according to court documents.
Deputy State’s Attorney Peter Feeney told the court that the attackers were talking and laughing to each other during the rape in the locker room. He said each of the four boys was equally culpable in each of the attacks. Feeney said, “The defendants’ conduct was astonishingly cruel. These crimes were intended to inflict pain, degrade and humiliate the weaker members of the football team.” Feeney said the victims were chosen because they were perceived as soft and would not fight back.
Feeney also told the court of times when two of the victims allegedly suffered abuse at the hands of one of the attackers while at Damascus High School, including having money and lunch stolen.
He said that once the attacks were over the teens went out to the field for the last practice of the season. Nothing was said to the coaches at practice about the attacks. According to Feeney, it wasn’t until one of the victim’s father discovered his son at home, in his room, sobbing, that anyone heard about the attacks. That victim’s father called the JV coach and told him of the “brooming,” who then called the varsity coach, who in turn called the principal, who called the police.
After practice, said Feeney, a Snapchat message when out on the team’s group chat from one of the attackers saying “Don’t rat me out.” According to the statement of charges, members of the team discussed the incidents in the locker room on Snapchat that evening.
The next day, on Nov. 1, a search warrant was executed on the locker room, and investigators located a broom with a brown handle.
Daniel Wright, the attorney for Abedi, asked the court, “Where were the adults? What is the responsibility of the school in all of this?” He said these are 15-year-old boys who, based on a lack of adult supervision could not contain their impulses. “This is a hazing incident that went to extremes,” Wright added. “It was out of control because of the group nature of the offenses and the utter lack of adult presence in the locker room.”
At which point, Feeney stood up and addressed the court to say, “This was not hazing. This was an extremely violent rape.”
Jason Downs, the attorney for the Kristian Lee told the court that his client had no previous instances of violence, and has not been suspended before, and had not even been in a fight at school. He said the Lee was an honor student and a scholar-athlete.
Felsen told the court that his client, Will Smith was also an honor student, despite being a student with special needs.
Shelly Brown, who represents Caleb Thorpe, said that her client was also an honors student who is taking six honors courses, she said, and “is very active in his church” where he spends time mentoring younger children and selling items in the church store.
After the bond hearing, McCarthy reiterated, “I am offended by the term hazing,” said McCarthy. “It is not hazing. These are crimes. I would caution anyone to refer to this as hazing. These boys were victims of criminal acts, not hazing. These boys were victims of First-Degree Rape and Attempted Rape.”
According to charging documents, Abedi told investigators that “they talked about the broom to scare the freshman and that the broom was always in the locker room.” While defendant “Smith stated that ‘the broom’ started from generations ago,” said court documents.
After the hearing, State’s Attorney John McCarthy said that investigators have not found any information that this has ever happened before, but said that his office would be investigating further.
“To date, we have not found any information that this has ever happened before,” said McCarthy. “There is an urban legend that may have been discussed — there is no victim that has come forward.” He explained that because of legal time constraints his office was focused on these four cases now. “Will we be looking at and examining the potential that this happened in prior years? The answer is absolutely, yes, but we had to set priorities for these boys. However, we have no evidence at this time. There is no case that we’ve confirmed that it has ever happened to anyone before,” he said.
When addressing the issue of why the 15-year-old defendants were charged as adults, McCarthy explained that Maryland State law requires that anyone over the age of 14 who is charged with First-Degree Rape must be charged as an adult.
“When these charges first game to us and the initial question was how to charge these boys. I decided to slow down our investigation to make sure that these were truly first-degree rape cases,” said McCarthy. “That was important because, as a matter of law in Maryland, First-Degree Rape carries life in prison and you must be charged as an adult if you are over the age of 14. The boys, in this case, were 15. We knew the consequences of a charge of first-degree rape, and we wanted to take our time.” He said his office wanted to make sure that the charges truly rose to the level of Frist-Degree Rape based on the allegations. He said the facts of the case, which were described in court “shocked and horrified” and “as a matter of law we had to charge these boys as adults.”
However, there is still a chance that some or all of the defendants will be tried as juveniles in this case.
McCarthy explained that each of the defendants is expected to file for a waiver hearing which is a request to reverse the jurisdiction and put the case back into juvenile court. Indeed, David Felson, attorney for Will Smith told reporters that he had already filed the motion for such a waiver.
There are five factors which play into the decision to grant a waiver, explained McCarthy. The waiver studies are done by the Division of Juvenile Services for the State of Maryland. The studies will look at five factors, the age of the boys, the physical and mental capabilities of the boys, their role in the crime, amenability to treatment, and public safety.
McCarthy said that his office would decide to oppose the waivers for a change of venue on an individual basis. “I don’t think this is a one size fits all situation. We will look at each boy’s report and make a determination as to whether we should concede in some instances or fight those waivers depending on what those reports show,” said McCarthy.
All four defendants, in this case, have Preliminary Hearings scheduled in court on Friday, Nov. 30, however, McCarthy and his team do not believe those hearings will take place. “We anticipate those hearings to be continued (to another date) or there will be action by the Grand Jury prior to Friday.”
On Sunday, multiple brooms were discovered on and near the grounds Damascus High School, according to a letter sent home from Damascus High School Principal Casey Crouse.
Crouse sent a letter to parents on Monday letting them know about the incident. According to the letter, the police were notified, and the brooms were removed Sunday.
According to the letter, “The police were notified, and the items were quickly removed. MCPS staff members and MCPD officers surveyed the areas again Monday morning to ensure that the area was clear of the offensive items. This act is extremely upsetting and clearly demonstrates an attempt to harm the well-being of DHS students, staff and community. An investigation is underway, and any person found responsible for this will be assigned consequences according to all applicable laws and in accordance with the MCPS Code of Conduct. Additional counselors and psychologists remain present at DHS to ensure we have support services in place for students and staff.”
Top: Four Damascus football players have accused of raping one teammate and attempting to rape three others with a broomstick have been released on bond.
Next: Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy addresses reporters after the bond hearing for the four Damascus High School students in Rockville on Monday.
Next: Damascus High School.
Next: Defense attorney David Felsen, who represents Will Smith, talks to reporters outside of the courthouse in Rockville on Monday after the hearing.
Photos by Germantown Pulse