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UMBC pays to settle defamation claims from ex-baseball players accused of rape

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, has paid $450,000 to settle with three former baseball players who said they were wrongfully accused of rape while enrolled at the school and defamed by the student newspaper, which published their names.

As part of the settlement, UMBC agreed to take the unusual step of removing the men’s names from an article run by the newspaper, The Retriever, that remains online.

The men will each receive $150,000 through the settlement, which The Daily Record obtained through a Public Information Act request. The agreement was reached out of court, allowing records of the payment to remain largely out of the public eye until now.

The three men were never prosecuted in the October 2017 incident after which two Towson University female students accused them of rape. For that reason, The Daily Record is not naming the men.

The lawyer for the men also said the rape allegations were not sustained in an internal Title IX proceeding held by UMBC.

“The settlement in this case is total vindication for our clients,” said the lawyer, Ron Schwartz. “Our clients want to get on with their lives and put this all behind them.”

The settlement ends just one piece of a messy, protracted legal battle that began after the Towson University students said they were sexually assaulted by the three men while too intoxicated or drugged to consent on Oct. 20, 2017.

The Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office declined to bring charges against the men, according to court records about the case. The men told county police that the sexual encounter they had with the two women was consensual.

One of the women continued to seek criminal charges against the men by filing an application for a statement of charges with a District Court Commissioner. Her request was denied at first but later granted by a different commissioner, who charged the men with sex offenses and rape.

The Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office quickly intervened to have the charges dismissed and declined to pursue the case.

The men also faced an internal Title IX proceeding at UMBC, according to their lawyer. While the case was pending, they were prohibited from participating in university activities, though they were ultimately permitted to play baseball.

The Retriever reported on the case in the fall of 2018, around the same time that a lawyer for the Towson University students filed a federal class-action lawsuit claiming that police, prosecutors and UMBC officials worked to cover up sexual assault allegations.

The lawsuit is still pending in U.S. District Court in Maryland, though a federal judge has thrown out the majority of the claims.

The rape allegations and the lawsuit, which also detailed another woman’s experience reporting sexual assault at UMBC, sparked outrage on the campus.

Other legal ramifications of the case continued for years: Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals in 2019 upheld the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s decision not to prosecute the baseball players.

The women sued the baseball players in Baltimore County Circuit Court in 2018, alleging battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The men countersued for defamation in 2019.

The lawsuit was dismissed in October 2020, court records show.

The men sent letters stating their claims against UMBC to the Maryland State Treasurer’s Office in August 2019. They alleged that The Retriever published their names “in a defamatory and reckless manner” and that students at UMBC orchestrated protests “designed and calculated to intimidate” the men.

The letter also claimed that UMBC’s Title IX procedures deprived the men of their constitutional rights.

Dinah Winnick, UMBC’s director of communications, told The Daily Record that “the settlement was negotiated through the Maryland State Treasurer’s Office and the Office of the Attorney General in consultation with UMBC” and referred a reporter to the settlement documents.

The men signed off on the settlement in mid-September. As part of the agreement, they acknowledged that The Retriever had changed the article that named the men and a second article that referred to them as “admitted rapists.”

The changes were made to the online articles on Sept. 10, according to the settlement documents.

The settlement also releases UMBC and all Retriever journalists from any legal claims brought by the men.