In his zeal to cover up a gang rape by college athletes, Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger sent police to the victim’s house to threaten her with arrest if she continued to try to press charges, a federal lawsuit says.
“These are shocking allegations,” says plaintiff’s attorney Rignal Baldwin V. “The reason I did so much work on it factually was because I couldn’t believe it.”
Two rape victims filed suit in Maryland against Shellenberger, the Board of Regents for the Maryland State University System, Lisa Dever, the prosecutor in charge of sex crimes, and several police officers, seeking class action status for the county’s systemic refusal to investigate and charge sexual assault cases.
News of the suit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, was first published by Courthouse News Service.
Bolstered by internal emails and other communication the plaintiffs obtained under the Maryland Public Information Act, the complaint outlines the suburban department’s long-term pattern of filing rape allegations as “unfounded,” destroying rape kits as little as 30 days after the examinations, and mis-classifying rape allegations as “suspicious circumstances.”
The intent of these practices is to avoid reporting rape allegations under the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR) and the university’s crime reports required by the Clery Act, according to the complaint, filed by Anna Borkowski and Katelyn Frank.
“The purpose of this lawsuit,” Baldwin said, “is accountability.”
Reached at his office, Shellenberger said that he has not yet seen the complaint. “And I would not comment on it even if I had,” he added.
Still Hiding Rapes
The issue in Baltimore County has been raised before, including in a 2016 article in Buzzfeed. Its reporting highlighted the county police department’s use of the “unfounded” classification to make its rape statistics look more rosy.
County officials pledged reform and produced a confidential report on the matter. But according to the lawsuit, the official inquiry was too narrow, and police and prosecutors merely shifted the way they misclassified rape allegations.
According to the complaint: between 2015 and 2017 the department classified at least 42 reports of rape as “suspicious circumstances.”
“Defendants’ pattern and practice of coding reports of sexual assaults as merely ‘suspicious circumstances’ or ‘suspicious conditions’ is an attempt to avoid accountability for their unjustified refusal to investigate credible reports of sexual assault against women,” the complaint says.
“Suspicious circumstances” and “suspicious conditions” are not UCR (Uniform Crime Reports) categories, “so these reports of sexual assault are not reported to the FBI or disclosed in Clery reporting as required by federal law,” the complaint says.
Thus, it concludes, alleged rapes are “deliberately hidden, depriving the victim of an investigation and equal protection.”
A week into her freshman year, plaintiff Katelyn Frank, was lured into a dorm room, drugged and raped, the lawsuit says. She woke up bleeding in the bathroom.
Frank reported the incident to a university official, who summoned Paul Dillon, Chief of the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) Police Department.
Dillon persuaded her to allow the university to handle the allegation administratively and not to report the rape to police. “This is functionally impossible,” the complaint notes, “as Defendant Dillon was a sworn police officer with various reporting duties.”
Rape kit evidence destroyed because allegation was classified as a “suspicious condition.”
Four days later, Frank submitted to a rape kit examination, which found evidence she had been raped. But unbeknownst to her, because of the way her report was classified, it was destroyed after 30 days.
“No one told Ms. Frank that the evidence she had endured a painful and intrusive examination to collect would be destroyed before the administrative process could finish,” the lawsuit says.
Months later, university officials cleared the suspect of wrongdoing. When Frank re-reported to rape to county police, they found no record of the rape allegation in the university’s records. It had been reported as a “suspicious condition.”
The defendants “acted together to make a thrice reported rape ‘go away’,” the lawsuit says.
Dillon, who received the 2015-2016 University System of Maryland Board of Regents’ Staff Award for Exceptional Contributions to the Mission of UMBC, did not respond to several messages left with his office.
3 UMBC Baseball Team Members
In the fall of 2017, Towson University junior Anna Borkowski and a female friend were drugged and raped by three members of the UMBC baseball team, the complaint says.
The pair left a Towson bar with the three men who, at a nearby apartment, encouraged the women to drink from bottles of vodka and wine while themselves “pretending to drink,” according to the complaint. After the women passed out, the men sexually assaulted them, the lawsuit says.
Complaint: The suspects admitted to having sex with both women while the women were incapacitated, but said they “did not understand what the issue was.”
Both victims reported the incident to police and Borkowski submitted the rape kit examination. The examination found “vaginal tearing” consistent with sexual assault, but county police were slow to gather evidence.
“Other than visiting the building where the rapes occurred, BCPD performed no investigation,” the lawsuit says. “BCPD did not subpoena the surveillance tapes from the bar or the apartment building.”
Then: “less than 24 hours after the assault, Ms. Borkowski’s case was inexplicably closed,” the lawsuit says. “Her report was ‘cleared’ by ‘exceptional circumstances.’ No notation reflecting the clearance is in the investigative file.”
Later, the lawsuit says, police did interview the suspects, who admitted to having sex with both women while they were incapacitated, but said they “did not understand what the issue was.”
The prosecutor declined to prosecute even though she acknowledged there was probable cause to arrest the suspects, the lawsuit says.
Detectives Warn Victim
When Borkowski eventually tried to file charges against her assailants in district court, the defendants thwarted her. The first court commissioner she contacted called the sex crimes unit and was told to deny the application for a statement of charges.
When Borkowski then submitted her sworn statement to another court commissioner, the defendants went a step further, the complaint alleges. They acted in concert to keep the summonses from being served and dismiss the case Borkowski filed and opened an investigation into Borkowski.
“In an unethical and illegal act that defies any logical explanation, and on orders from Defendants Dever and Shellenberger, Defendant [Kristen] Burrows contacted the Baltimore County police officer in charge of serving the summonses on the three men and instructed him not to serve them,” the lawsuit says.
Complaint: Shellenberger dispatched two detectives and a patrol officer to the victim’s home to threaten her with criminal charges if she persisted. She persisted.
Shortly after, Shellenberger dispatched two detectives and a patrol officer to Borkowski’s home in Baltimore City to warn Borkowski that if she persists “they will file criminal abuse of process charges against her.”
When the three men’s cases were called in District Court, prosecutor Dever dismissed them and, according to the complaint, “purporting to act on behalf of the State, then moved to expunge the Criminal Defendants’ records, something she lacks standing to do.”
The prosecutor’s office had one more arrow in its quiver.
Borkowski’s sister, Emily, had recently been accepted to an internship with the State’s Attorney’s office.
In April of 2018 she was working in the Domestic Violence Section. She immediately came under scrutiny by an investigator for the sex crimes unit.
The investigator admitted in an email to Dever to having “stalked” Anna Borkowski to ferret out any connection between Anna and Emily Borkowski, according to emails that Baldwin, the plaintiff’s lawyer, obtained.
Emily Borkowski was fired on May 11.
The defendants said the firing was in response to a purported accusation of “misconduct” made by Borkowski’s attorney. The suit calls it a “retaliatory, unjustified” act, undertaken to punish Anna Borkowski.