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The University of Maryland, Baltimore County will pay three former baseball players a combined $450,000 to settle a defamation case they brought against the college after they said they were wrongly accused of rape and had the false allegations printed in the college’s newspaper.
Ron Schwartz, one of the attorneys representing the trio, confirmed Thursday that school officials agreed to pay the three men $150,000 each and would move to remove their names from an online article detailing the rape allegations that ran in the college’s student-run newspaper, The Retriever.
The three men, who The Sun is not naming, were accused by a then-Towson University student of raping her in 2017. According to police records, she and another female student were drinking with the men before they all went to an apartment and engaged in sexual acts.
The Baltimore Sun generally does not name victims of alleged sexual assault.
The women told police the next day they’d blacked out or passed out and were sexually assaulted while the men maintained the acts were consensual.
While the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office declined to bring charges initially, one of the women later successfully filed an application for a statement of charges with a court commissioner, who charged the men with rape and sex offenses.
The State’s Attorney’s Office soon intervened and dropped the charges, declining to pursue the case, but the university still conducted an internal Title IX probe into the allegations and banned the three men from participating in any on-campus activities outside of in-person classes and to play baseball, according to Schwartz.
News of the criminal charges were printed in The Retriever in fall 2018 around the same time that a class-action lawsuit was filed alleging that police, prosecutors and university officials conspired to cover up sexual assault allegations.
Students expressed outrage on campus regarding the rape charges while several lawsuits and appeals surrounding the incident and the handling of sexual assault investigations have played out in courts in the years since.
The woman filed a civil lawsuit in Baltimore County Circuit Court in 2019, alleging sexual battery and claiming that the men spiked the women’s drinks. The three men later countersued the women for defamation and other claims, alleging that the woman’s lawyer made “misstatements of facts” in her court application for criminal charges against the men and caused them to suffer “emotional distress, death threats, public approbation, special and consequential damages.”
The lawsuit was dismissed in October 2020, court records show. Prior to its dismissal, the men sent letters to the State Treasurer’s Office stating their claims against UMBC, alleging it acted “in a defamatory and reckless manner” when The Retriever published their names, according to The Daily Record, which first reported the settlement.
That same month, a federal judge threw out most claims in the class action lawsuit, dismissing all charges against the university and county while ruling the lawsuit “fails to state a viable claim” except for one allegation of violating a woman’s First Amendment rights, which was allowed to proceed.
Schwartz called the settlement in the defamation case — under which UMBC doesn’t admit guilt but still pays the three men — a “total vindication,” but said it does little to correct the damage the accusations did to the their reputations.
He said one of the three graduated with a computer engineering degree but has struggled to find a job during the past two years because of the allegations.
University spokeswoman Dinah Winnick confirmed that the settlement was reached in cooperation with officials with the State Treasurer’s Office and Attorney General’s Office, but declined to comment further.