Man charged in party for school team

He is accused of having sex with teen, buying beer

February 27, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

A 47-year-old Westminster man was charged yesterday with buying beer and liquor for a sleepover party attended by members of the Westminster High School girls' basketball team - and with having sex with one of the girls at the gathering.

Randall S. Matthews, who surrendered yesterday morning at the Maryland State Police barracks in Westminster, faces 16 counts of providing alcohol to underage drinkers - a charge called "contributing to the condition of a child."

Nine girls who attended the party were suspended from the basketball team for the balance of the season for allegedly violating the Carroll school system's alcohol policy.

Matthews, whose 16-year-old daughter was among those suspended from the team, provided beer and rum to the players at the sleepover at his Westminster home after the team's Dec. 20 game, according to charging documents.

After initially denying any wrongdoing, Matthews admitted to police that he bought the alcohol at his daughter's request and had sex with one of her teammates in the early morning, according to the documents.

Matthews and defense attorney Scott Shellenberger declined to comment yesterday. If convicted, Matthews could face up to 15 years in prison. He was released last night on $10,000 bail.

The arrest is the latest fallout from a party that also led to the resignation of Westminster High's longtime varsity girls basketball coach. Dick Ebersole, 56, resigned three weeks ago, noting his wishes to keep lingering inquiries over the players' Jan. 21 suspensions from distracting the remaining varsity players and the junior varsity players who rounded out the team for the end of the season.

Ebersole declined to comment yesterday on the charges, saying only that he had no indication that Matthews might have provided alcohol at the party or might have had sex with a player.

Under Carroll County's eligibility policy, students caught possessing or using illegal drugs or alcohol at any time, on or off school property - or being in the presence of drug use or underage drinking - are prohibited from participating in extracurricular activities for 45 school days or the rest of the athletic season, whichever is longer.

But even as Matthews was being booked at the Carroll County Detention Center, the policy was coming under scrutiny at a county school board meeting.

Newly elected board member Laura K. Rhodes asked Superintendent Charles I. Ecker to re-examine the policy, which is only several years old, to determine whether the eligibility rules are effective.

"The idea was for parents to partner with the schools to fight teen-age drug and alcohol use," Rhodes said in an interview after the meeting. "Is that what it's doing? I don't think so. ... We're becoming more secretive because parents don't want their kids to get in trouble and as a result, we're not fighting anything because the drinking is not getting reported."

On Dec. 20, nine of the team's 12 players - ages 15, 16 and 17 - and five or six boys attended the party at Matthews' house in the 100 block of Marydell Drive, just down the street from the high school, according to court documents.

One of the nine girls denied drinking any alcohol, but the other girls told police that they each drank between two and 11 beers, according to documents.

The girls told police that the 17-year-old girl with whom Matthews is accused of having sexual intercourse appeared to be the most intoxicated "with slurred speech and stumbling behavior," according to court documents.

The sexual contact allegedly began after the girl complained at 4 a.m. that she couldn't sleep and Matthews allowed her into his bedroom, where they began kissing and eventually had sex, according to court documents.

He invited the girl, two of her teammates and the boyfriend of one player back to his house a week later, where they all drank beer and played cards for a few hours, court documents state.

He again engaged in "making out behavior" in his bedroom with the 17-year-old girl but did not have sex with her for fear that his daughter and 14-year- old son would catch him, according to court documents.

Although the girl is beyond Maryland's age of consent, 16, and told authorities that she consented to sex, authorities charged Matthews with child abuse under the "care and custody" element of the statute.

Because the girl's parents specifically asked Matthews before the party whether he would be at home to supervise the girls, they expected their daughter to be in Matthews' custody during the party, police and prosecutors said.

Matthews, who is divorced and works for the state health department, told The Sun last month that a small amount of beer was drunk at the party without his knowledge or consent. He said in an interview that he did not see evidence of drinking until the next day when he found "a beer can or two" outside his home.

"Should I have been more vigilant?" Matthews told The Sun. "Perhaps I should have been."

Rita LaPorta, the mother of the only girl who told police she did not drink any beer or rum, said she allowed her daughter to attend the sleepover "expecting an adult to be in charge, not handing out alcohol. All we're trying to do is get less punishment for our child."

Sun staff writers Athima Chansanchai and Childs Walker contributed to this article.

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