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UMBC, other defendants seek dismissal of lawsuit over sexual assault investigations

Heather Cobun//Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer//January 15, 2019

UMBC, other defendants seek dismissal of lawsuit over sexual assault investigations

By Heather Cobun

//Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer

//January 15, 2019

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County called a lawsuit alleging the school, police and prosecutors improperly handle sexual assault investigations “long on outrage and short on concrete facts” in a motion to dismiss filed Monday.

The lawsuit, filed in September, contends that UMBC and law enforcement have a pattern of failing to properly investigate and prosecute sexual assault allegations. After it was initially filed, three more women joined the potential class-action suit.

In a 134-page amended complaint, filed last month in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, the five plaintiffs contend there is “systematic, institutionalized indifference to crimes of sexual violence, coupled with bias against women.”

The lawsuit names 22 defendants, including the university and its leadership, an attorney hired by the university to investigate Title IX complaints, the county, State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger and prosecutors in his office, and the Baltimore County Police Department and individual officers.

UMBC, the Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland, and the UMBC Police Department filed a joint motion to dismiss that argues the plaintiffs have not shown that the school is “deliberately indifferent” to complaints of sexual assault.

The university leaders, including President Freeman Hrabowski III, also moved to dismiss and argued the plaintiffs have not articulated any actions that discriminated based on gender or violated Title IX.

Three of the plaintiffs’ complaints were investigated, according to the university’s motion, and because of the “undisputed steps taken” by the university to “investigate, adjudicate, and review the complaints of sexual assault,” there was no deliberate indifference to the plaintiffs. Two complaints are still in the middle of the administrative process.

Police and prosecutors

The plaintiffs also claim police and later prosecutors did not adequately pursue their cases. One plaintiff said she reported a campus sexual assault to UMBC in 2015. After she contacted the police to pursue criminal charges, the incident was classified as a “suspicious condition” and the case was closed, according to the lawsuit.

Two other plaintiffs reported an off-campus sexual assault by three UMBC students in 2017 but said their case was closed and cleared less than 24 hours after the assault. Police later scheduled interviews with the alleged perpetrators who admitted to sexual contact with one of the women but claimed it was consensual. Prosecutors later declined to file charges.

The police department said the lawsuit shows “a stark misunderstanding of the limited role in law enforcement in determining whether a criminal complaint results in formal charges.”

There is no showing that the county or the department “adopted any policy out of animus towards women” or failed to train or supervise its officers.

The officers themselves also moved to dismiss and claim sexual assault and rape cases “are simply very difficult to prosecute under the statutory elements that the Maryland General Assembly and the case law of Maryland have prescribed.”

Prosecutors, according to the plaintiffs, “would routinely and maliciously classify credible reports of sexual assault as ‘unfounded’” and not conduct investigations.

But Shellenberger and other attorneys in his office say the plaintiffs “have no right to have their claims investigated” and have not made allegations that there is a disparity in how sexual assault investigations with female victims are investigated.

Many of the defendants also claim they are immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment and common law immunity.

The plaintiffs are represented by Rignal Baldwin V and Stephen C. Rigg of BaldwinLaw LLC in Baltimore. Baldwin was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.


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