School action may be next for 3 in sex incident

Mount Hebron ponders suspension, expulsion

`A whole range of possibilities'

Girl who was involved could also be punished

Ellicott City

April 27, 2004|By Tricia Bishop and Gus G. Sentementes | Tricia Bishop and Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

Three Howard County teen-agers who prosecutors say were falsely accused of raping a 15-year-old girl in a school bathroom could receive punishment ranging from suspension to expulsion for violating school system rules barring sexual acts on school grounds, officials said yesterday.

"There's a whole range of possibilities," said Mount Hebron High School Principal Veronica Bohn, who refused to comment on the students' individual cases because of privacy laws.

Bohn - who met privately yesterday with the students, their attorneys and family members - said she will consider the teen-agers' accounts of the incident before handing down a final decision by the end of the week.

The Ellicott City students - Roderick D. Rudolph, 15, Christopher S. Berry, 16, and Demitris R. Myrick, 18 - were arrested April 15 and charged a day later with the rape of a 15-year-old classmate in a school bathroom. The boys denied the charges, though two of them admitted to having consensual sexual relations with the girl.

Charged as adults with felonies that included rape and sexual offense, they spent six days in jail before being released on bail Wednesday, the same day officials said their accuser changed her story.

On Thursday, Howard County State's Attorney Timothy J. McCrone said the girl had recanted her allegations and that his office would drop the charges against the teens - though the girl's father later denied she had withdrawn her accusation. The prosecutor reiterated yesterday that he expects to act sometime this week.

No other charges against the students are expected to be pursued. Consensual sex with a minor could be considered a criminal offense in some cases. But the youths accused in this case are not old enough to be charged with statutory rape or other sex offenses, the prosecutor said, given the age of the girl.

Attorneys for at least two of the accused - Myrick and Berry - have asked that charges be brought against the girl for filing a false report, but McCrone has said he would not pursue such action.

Punishment for girl

The girl faces the same range of possible school punishments as those she accused, Mount Hebron's principal said. She has been unable to reach the girl's family to set up an appointment.

"I need to talk to all of them in order to" make a determination, Bohn said.

The girl's mother vowed yesterday not to send her daughter back to Mount Hebron, no matter what school officials decide. She said she planned to teach her at home, and referred questions to her attorney, Gary W. Wiessner of Ellicott City, who would not discuss the case.

The Sun is not identifying the girl or her family members because she is a juvenile.

According to county school system guidelines, a principal must determine the severity of infractions in choosing a punishment, which was one purpose of yesterday's meetings.

Though the boys have denied breaking the law, they do not dispute that they broke school regulations.

The first thing that Berry said when he walked into his meeting, with his mother and father trailing him, was "mea culpa," according to his attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon.

"There's no excuse, all we can do is explain," Gordon said yesterday after the meeting at school system headquarters. "There's no excuse to justify what we did. We're just apologizing for our conduct."

The teens, along with the girl, are charged with breaking several school rules, including disrupting the school environment, engaging in sexual activity and participating in sexual harassment.

Disciplinary options include a verbal reprimand, 10 days' suspension, alternative education placement or expulsion for an unspecified amount of time.

Karen Rudolph, mother of Roderick Rudolph, said Bohn informed her during their meeting yesterday that her son was facing at least a suspension for his involvement in the incident.

`Too late to transfer'

Rudolph said she wants her son to complete 10th grade at Mount Hebron because it is "too late in the year to transfer."

"As far as furthering his education in the Howard County school system, that's up in the air at this point," she said. "Right now, my main concern is to get him through the 10th grade."

Warren A. Brown, an attorney who represents Myrick, said of yesterday's meeting: "We met, we talked, everyone shared in some responsibility for things that occurred during and after this incident in the bathroom." But Myrick's mother, Cathey Jones, wonders what responsibility the school should take.

In a brief telephone interview yesterday, Jones criticized school officials at the meeting for not informing her until 9 p.m. the day her son was arrested, seven hours after he was taken into custody. Bohn said she did not call right away because police said they would handle it.

Bohn said she plans to use this incident as "an opportunity to talk about inappropriate sexual behavior in school" and its consequences, but first she is trying to judge whether it is a widespread occurrence.

"That's what we're trying to determine now, if it's an issue, or if it's isolated," she said yesterday.

Bohn said school staff members were in the process of collecting assignments for the students, who have not been in school since the report of the incident. Today is their eighth missed day.

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