A woman who sued Baltimore County prosecutors and police may be paid $100,000 to settle a claim that county authorities violated constitutional rights after she reported she was sexually assaulted by baseball players from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
The State Insurance Trust Fund would pay Anna Borkowski and her attorneys $50,000, according to a Maryland Board of Public Works agenda released Friday.
Baltimore County says it will pay another $50,000 to settle the case.
If the Board of Public Works approves the settlement, it will end a yearslong legal battle between former Towson University student Borkowski, prosecutors in State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger’s office and police, who tried to prevent Borkowski from filing criminal charges against three male baseball players who Borkowski said sexually assaulted her in 2017.
The settlement agreement was made Aug. 30, according to court records — days before Shellenberger, then-assistant state’s attorney Lisa Dever, police detectives and high-ranking commanders were scheduled for trial in U.S. District Court. The lawsuit was covered by national outlets after BuzzFeed News reported in 2016 that the Baltimore County Police Department routinely threw out sexual assault complaints.
Borkowski’s case stemmed from a class-action lawsuit filed in 2018 by five female college students against UMBC and Baltimore County — entities that the lawsuit accused of mishandling sexual assault complaints, treating women reporting sex crimes with “indifference and disrespect” and intimidating women who report.
U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow threw out nearly all of the plaintiffs’ claims in 2020, writing that they failed to prove allegations that UMBC and county authorities discriminated against women who reported sexual assault. Chasanow found merit in only Borkowski’s claim — that prosecutors and police violated her First Amendment rights — and allowed it to advance.
Court records outline efforts taken by the state’s attorney and police to shield the men from criminal charges, which included intercepting criminal summonses issued to them.
After the state’s attorney declined to prosecute the former baseball players — prosecutors said the allegations didn’t meet the “element of force or incapacitation” in the law — Borkowski in 2018 petitioned two district court commissioners to file criminal charges.
The first commissioner contacted Dever, who directed that he decline the petition. The second agreed to issue charges for first-degree rape and other offenses.
But prosecutors and police moved swiftly to have the charges dismissed; then-detective Kristin Burrows, who investigated Borkowski’s case, coordinated with with others to intercept the criminal summonses about to be served to the men.
Directed by the state’s attorney office, Burrows, detective Nicholas Tomas and a uniformed county officer then drove to Borkowski’s grandmother’s house in North Baltimore to prevent her from seeking further charges, or she could face charges herself; Borkowski’s lawsuit alleges authorities obtained the address and her class schedule from Towson University.
Shellenberger said throughout the case that his office ordered police to stop Borkowski out of concern for her safety. After Borkowski filed the civil lawsuit in 2019, the three baseball players she said raped her sued her and UMBC for defamation; UMBC paid $450,000 to settle the case last year.
In August, Shellenberger — who is running for a fifth term — promoted Dever to deputy state’s attorney (the second top position in the prosecutors’ office).
Salary records provided by the county show Tomas and Burrows currently earn six-figure salaries. Tomas is listed as a corporal who earns $109,373. Records show Burrows makes $105,127 and is a police officer first class.
Burrows joined the police department in 2000, according to the employee list. Tomas was first hired with the police department in 2003.
County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., who has endorsed Shellenberger for reelection, said in an interview there are “certainly opportunities to do more in that office [the state’s attorney office] to support women and victims of sexual assault.”
“I certainly don’t condone any of the circumstances” that led to the settlement agreement, Olszewski said, but declined to comment “on specifics until that process is complete.”
Chasanow denied Shellenberger immunity — protection afforded to prosecutors and government officials — after Baltimore County authorities asked the court to rule without a trial. Chasanow wrote that officials should have known they could not use “threats and intimidation” to retaliate against Borkowski.
The 63-year-old Democrat has long been criticized for his reluctance to try sexual assault cases. Two Baltimore County administrations propped up task forces to review police and prosecutors’ investigations of sexual assault; in 2019, the task force found authorities frequently declined to bring charges in cases where women could not prove they physically resisted their assailants.
But neither a settlement nor the outcome of a jury trial would trigger punitive action against Shellenberger’s office over Borkowski’s claim. Allegations of Maryland attorneys’ professional misconduct are investigated by state bar counsel Lydia Lawless and the Attorney Grievance Commission, which decide if an attorney has violated rules of professional conduct and whether to discipline.
Republican James Haynes, a former administrative law judge for the federal labor department who is running to oust Shellenberger as state’s attorney in November, said that sending police to Borkowski’s home “was serious misconduct” if Shellenberger sought to intimidate her.
“Sending the police to tell a woman not to file her own charges of sexual assault was obviously wrong,” Haynes, 72, said in a statement. “If my opponent meant well but didn’t think it through, his lack of judgment is dangerous.”
Taxpayers, Haynes added, “should not have to carry the cost of Scott Shellenberger’s mistakes or misconduct.”