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Three more women join two plaintiffs in lawsuit alleging UMBC, Baltimore County mishandled sexual assault cases; President Hrabowski added as defendant

Three more women stating they were sexually assaulted have joined two other alleged victims in a $10 million, federal class-action lawsuit that claims UMBC and Baltimore County officials deliberately misclassified cases of sexual assault to “lower the reported numbers of sexual assaults.”

One of the women, a former UMBC student, alleges she was gang-raped on campus by four members of the university’s basketball team in 2014. Another of the new plaintiffs alleges she was gang-raped by three members of the UMBC baseball team in 2017, along with one of the two original plaintiffs. The third woman was sexually assaulted in a laboratory by a UMBC graduate student in 2016, the suit alleges.

An amended, 120-page complaint detailing the events and subsequent actions by both university staff and county police was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore by lawyers representing the five women.

UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski III, Baltimore County Police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan, former County Police Chief James W. Johnson, another two county police detectives from the Special Victims Team and a second county police officer were added as defendants in the amended civil suit this week.

The Retriever is not identifying the women, who are named as plaintiffs in the suit, because they are alleged sexual assault victims.

Among the other defendants initially named in the lawsuit are Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger, three members of his office, three county detectives, a UMBC “independent investigator” who looked into two of the sexual assault allegations, and UMBC Police Chief Paul M. Dillon.

The complaint, a civil rights lawsuit, alleges “intentional misconduct, gross negligence, and willful indifference” by the defendants “designed to suppress legitimate reports of rape and sexual assault.” It argues that the plaintiffs were not allowed equal protection under the law as female victims of sexual assault and were subsequently “denied educational access.” It also reports in a footnote that UMBC “has claimed, in writing, that a misclassified report of sexual assault does not count as a report of sexual assault.”

Four of the five plaintiffs are listed in the civil suit as having been UMBC students at some point, but after their cases were handled, they transferred to other schools. For one of the new plaintiffs, a graduate student at the University of Maryland at Baltimore who was assaulted by a UMBC graduate student in the lab, university officials “acknowledged” that her assault occurred, and then referred her accused assailant to one counseling session as “penalty,” the suit claims.

One of the three new plaintiffs was allegedly sexually assaulted by three UMBC baseball players at an apartment near Towson University, where she is now a student. She joins another woman – her friend — who alleged in the original lawsuit that she was sexually assaulted by the three baseball players. The alleged assault of the two women took place the same night, after they had been drinking at a Towson bar with the three UMBC athletes.

The third new plaintiff alleges she was raped on campus in August 2014 by four UMBC basketball players while she was intoxicated after a party. She did not recall the incident at the time, but found out about it two months later when she was “accidentally” told that the four basketball players had “run a train on her and pass[ed] her around,” the lawsuit alleges.

When she reported the assault to Baltimore County police, she was told by a detective that she had not been raped because in order for “some of the sex acts to be performed, she would have had to be conscious to participate,” the suit alleges.

The lawsuit states that two of the four players were expelled from the university after admitting to officials they were involved in the incident.

UMBC has not expelled any student for a Title IX violation where only two of the four alleged assailants in the plaintiff’s case were expelled for admitting to sexual assault, according to the lawsuit. Title IX prevents discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational program or activity that receives federal funding. No other accused assailants of the five plaintiffs were expelled.

Two weeks ago, the Maryland Attorney General’s office, which is representing Dillon, filed a motion for a judge to dismiss the count against him – alleging that he deliberately minimized sexual assault reports — or enter a summary judgment in his favor.

Attorney General Brian E. Frosh and two of his assistant attorneys general – Christopher Bowie Lord and Erik J. Delfosse – also argue in the Oct. 5 motion that Dillon is entitled to qualified immunity personally and to immunity in his professional capacity as a state official.

The federal judge in the case, U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow, has not ruled on the Dillion motion.

The complaint also looks at the classification and diversion of reports of rape and sexual assault to other non-police entities on UMBC’s campus. In “diverting” these cases, Dillon “created the illusion that the assaults did not occur and ensured that they received minimal attention.”

UMBC spokeswoman and Associate Vice President for Engagement Lisa Akchin told The Retriever that the university does not discuss individual cases “to protect the privacy of our students.”

Akchin did say, however, “it is the practice of the campus in all cases to handle these matters diligently, equitably, and consistent with university, state, and federal policies and procedures.”

Akchin said that the university’s process for handling cases of sexual assault allegations “have resulted in serious disciplinary actions, including the suspension and expulsion of students.”

Nevertheless, she said, “we also know that compliance with policies and applicable laws is not a sufficiently wholistic response to the complex problem of sexual assault on college campuses.” As a result, through the UMBC Accountablility Team, the university is looking at ways to strengthen its prevention and response efforts to sexual assault, she said.

In an Oct. 11 e-mail, the UMBC Accountability Team, composed of administrators, faculty and staff established by President Hrabowski after the listening session he held with students on Sept. 20, updated students on prevention methods and actions the administration is taking to keep its students safe. While the e-mail references bringing in an external expert or firm to review proceedings, this external review would reportedly only look at “aspects of [UMBC’s] sexual misconduct prevention and response policies and training and awareness programs,” not any administrators, faculty or staff members at UMBC.

This report will be updated.