Sexual assault charges dropped against Morgan State students

University band members beaten up in jail

August 10, 2010|By Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun

Sexual assault charges against four men — all former or current Morgan State University students held without bail since mid-July — were dropped Tuesday, after their accuser changed her story.

But the defendants never made it to Baltimore District Court for the proceeding.

Renard James, 30; Dante Green, 24; Dale Lawton, 22; and Howard Smith Cook, 22, were jumped by other inmates in a city jail holding cell before they could be transported, defense attorneys said.

The two younger men were taken to a hospital, treated and released, according to the state's Department of Corrections. The older two were taken to a detention center clinic for treatment.

"My understanding is … 30 people attacked our clients, I don't know why," said defense attorney Catherine Flynn, who represents Green. "I think one has a broken nose and broken ribs."

Few details of the attack were available Tuesday.

Attorneys said that the men were all former band members at Morgan. They were arrested a month ago and charged with various sexual offenses, including assault, perverted practice and conspiracy.

Their accuser, who also has a connection to the Morgan band according to Lawton's attorney, told police she was assaulted June 30 in Cook's apartment in the Hamilton Hills neighborhood. She said the men forcibly removed her clothes, held her down, and performed sexual acts on her against her will.

But the Baltimore State's Attorney's Office chose not to prosecute "after the continued investigation by prosecutors and police detectives showed insufficient evidence to proceed," said spokeswoman Margaret T. Burns.

The decision to drop the case was made this week. The men were to be released after processing Tuesday.

"Apparently they did not believe the young lady's story after all of this," said Lawton's lawyer, William R. Buie III.

He said he planned to talk with Lawton's parents about taking legal action against the accuser. The family was too concerned with their son's well-being to discuss much yesterday, Buie said.

He believes the fight may have occurred because the defendants were bragging about their impending release, which they were told of Monday.

"Almost 30 days in jail for a false accusation, then he gets assaulted," Buie said. "Needless to say, his family's not really happy about the whole process, and neither am I."

Lawton has been threatened at least once before by another inmate, Buie said.

His client and James have clean criminal records in Maryland, though Green and Smith Cook were separately given sentences of probation before judgment for theft charges, according to online court records.

Mark Van Bavel, who represents Renard James, said he planned to counsel his client about expunging the charges from his record.

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

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