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Class Alleges Manipulation of Rape Reports in Baltimore

Alleging “shameless corruption” in Baltimore County’s handling of sex crimes, two women hit the state’s attorney’s office, the public university system and the police department with an explosive federal class action.

BALTIMORE (CN) - Alleging “shameless corruption” in Baltimore County’s handling of sex crimes, two women hit the state’s attorney’s office, the public university system and the police department with an explosive federal class action.

Lead plaintiffs Katelyn Frank and Anna Borkowski are themselves the survivors of sexual assaults committed by students of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, according to the Sept. 10 complaint.

Represented by local attorney Rignal Baldwin V, the women say their attackers were never brought to justice because public officials “intimidated witnesses, deceived victims, and intentionally misstated the applicable law.”

“This is not a ‘failure to protect’ lawsuit; it is about intentional misconduct designed to cover up justifiable complaints of sexual assault,” the complaint states.

Drawing from internal documents unearthed through public-record requests, the complaint outlines a long-term pattern of “unfounding” rape allegations, destroying rape kits as little as 30 days after the examinations, and misclassifying rape allegations as “suspicious circumstances” in order to avoid reporting them to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report system and the university’s Clery Act crime statistic.

“These are shocking allegations,” attorney Baldwin said in a phone interview. “The reason I did so much work on it factually was because I couldn’t believe it.”

Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger, one of 10 individuals named as defendants to the suit, has not responded to a phone message and email seeking comment.

This week’s lawsuit comes two years after Buzzfeed highlighted the Baltimore 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 Frank and Borkowski say the official inquiry was too narrow.

“When a woman reports a sexual assault to Baltimore County, there is approximately a one in ten chance an accused perpetrator will be arrested,” the complaint states. “This arrest rate is less than half of the national average.”

Frank and Borkowski say police and prosecutors are still manipulating the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program codes, abbreviated in the filing as UCR codes.

Between 2015 and 2017, the county classified 42 rapes as “suspicious circumstances,” according to the complaint. Because "suspicious circumstances” and “suspicious condition” are not UCR categories, however, “these reports of sexual assault are not reported to the FBI or disclosed in Clery reporting as required by federal law,” the complaint states.

Plaintiff Frank says she was reported she was raped her freshman year at UMBC in 2015.

Though she initially followed the school’s advice not to file a police report, Frank says she re-reported to rape to county police after university officials cleared the suspect of wrongdoing.

The police found no record of the rape allegation in the university’s records: It had been reported as a “suspicious condition.”

Multiple defendants “acted together to make a thrice reported rape ‘go away,’” the complaint says.

Borkowski was a junior at Towson University in 2017 when she says she and another woman were drugged and raped by three members of the UMBC baseball team.

Though a rape-kit examination found “vaginal tearing” consistent with sexual assault, she says her “case was inexplicably closed” just after midnight on Oct. 21, 2017, less than 24 hours after the assault.

“Her report was ‘cleared’ by ‘exceptional circumstances,’” the complaint states. “No notation reflecting the clearance is in the investigative file.”

Borkowski says a prosecutor later declined to prosecute even though she acknowledged in internal communications that there was probable cause to arrest the suspects.

When Borkowski eventually tried to file charges against her assailants in district court, she says the defendants worked in concert to thwart her.

First a court commissioner was told by a detective in the sex-crimes unit and a local prosecutor to deny the application for a statement of charges, according to the complaint.

Borkowski says she then submitted her sworn statement to another court commissioner, but the defendants tried to keep the summonses from being served. After dismissing the cases Borkowski filed, the defendants instead opened an investigation into Borkowski.

The complaint says Shellenberger later dispatched two detectives and a patrol officer to Baltimore City to warn Borkowski that if she persists “they will file criminal abuse of process charges against her."

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