Friday, March 31, 2017

Protesters gather at first MoCo BOE meeting since Rockville HS rape reported

Protesters gathered yesterday outside the first Montgomery County Board of Education meeting since the alleged gang rape of a 14-year-old girl at Rockville High School on March 16. Angered to find that such an important incident was nowhere to be found on the meeting agenda, protesters and political candidates called for the immediate resignation of Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith. 

VIDEO: Rally highlights

"Our schools are overcrowded, undisciplined, low-achieving havens for violent street gangs," said Tom Ferleman, a candidate for the Montgomery County Council's District 2 seat. "The entire nation now knows us for the alleged rape of a child." Ferleman was one of those asking for Smith to resign.
Superintendent Jack Smith confers
with Board of Education member
Patricia O'Neill moments before
last  night's meeting began

After rally organizers held a press conference outside the Carver Educational Services Center in Rockville, several participants went inside to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting. Edward Amatetti, a teacher and also a candidate for Montgomery County Council District 2, said the gang rape was "not an isolated [incident]." He referred to the recently-revealed assault on a 17-year-old female student, which was covered up by Rockville HS school administrators and not reported initially to police nine days prior to the gang rape incident. The victim and her stepfather were given a "weeklong runaround" by the school and police, Amatetti charged.

Amatetti said a Latino immigrant father told him that he pulled his daughter out of Rockville H.S. after observing suspicious activities by students there. "He knew what he was seeing, even if school leaders didn't," Amatetti said, an allusion to the principal's recent denial of gang activity at the school. He recalled another Rockville H.S. parent telling him that his son was warned by a teacher to "keep his mouth shut in class," because members of the MS-13 gang were in that class. That teacher said he also was afraid of MS-13 himself.

The Board has been "too silent" on the gang rape incident, Amatetti said. He singled out Smith, telling him "your responses have been inadequate."

Montgomery County Republican Party Chairman Dick Jurgena pressed the Board as to "why illegal alien men, who come from a completely-different culture and have no apparent educational training, are mixed with students as young as 13 or 14 years of age. How these two young men came to be enrolled in the county school system, and in the freshman class, raises many questions."

After their critics spoke, some on the Board were less than contrite. Patricia O'Neill, who is about to celebrate her 20th year on the Board, said the alleged gang rape was "shocking to all of us," and "horrifying. But I do not have facts," she hedged. Then, like several other county officials over the last two weeks, her voice suggested the public criticism of Smith and the BOE was a bigger issue than the rape itself. Raising her voice, O'Neill complained she has "truly been troubled by the harassing, threatening emails and phone calls," apparently oblivious to the fact that that very focus on politics, instead of the crime itself, has been driving many of those communications.

While O'Neill hasn't been heard raising her voice against violence against 14 and 17-year-old girls in school, she said that while watching a Fox News segment on the rape, "by the time the show was over, I was shouting at the T.V. Fake news has triggered this avalanche of vitriol."

It was also intriguing that Board member Jill Ortman-Fause said the emails and phone calls had "raised the level of anxiety in our schools," as opposed to the threat of rape or violence being the source of anxiety. "A lot of them are threats, and have to be reported to the police," she said, before taking time to congratulate staff. Board member Rebecca Smondrowski chose to reprise Councilmember Roger Berliner's infamously tone-deaf assessment of the gang rape: "Bad things happen." Oops.

Board President Michael Durso appeared to endorse the vitriolic remarks of a speaker during the public comment period who lashed out at those criticizing the school system, accusing them of being racists and using the rape incident and immigration status of the suspects for political gain. Neither the speaker nor Durso appeared to realize that MCPS and the Montgomery County Council have already politicized immigration, including many public statements, issuing resolutions and hiring an expensive immigration attorney with no clear Montgomery County-oriented purpose. No other jurisdiction in the area retains a specialized expensive immigration lawyer other than Montgomery County.

Perhaps in response to criticism over leaving the rape case off the agenda, Smith outlined the general security topics he and the system will review in the coming weeks:

  • How to utilize existing security personnel
  • How to allocate security resources
  • Review all facilities, and look at "places in schools where we could do changes in facilities"
  • Increase the number of entry checkpoints
  • Review how existing security cameras are used and monitored
  • Get student input
  • Add a curriculum "component" on "harassment, inappropriate sexual advances, and assault"
"I cannot express to our community how serious we are about this," Smith assured. But, examining this list, it sounds like a checklist one would already have gone over every six months or so in the post-Columbine/9/11 era. Is this really the first time this basic sort of list is being considered in such a large school system? That's cause for real concern by itself.

The pattern in the county has been just that - addressing basic, fundamental problems only after a catastrophic failure. This is how the County Council has operated for years. 911 system fails? Now we'll take a look at the backup systems. Flower Branch Apartments explode? Now we'll step up code inspections of apartment buildings. Did they just put county residents' email addresses online for hackers to steal from the Open Data website? Now Hans Riemer will draft a provision that should have been in his original legislation to protect residents.

It's time for new leadership, who can take a back-to-basics approach to the issues and services government should be focused on, instead of styrofoam, vending machines and teenage tanning beds.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Silver Spring construction update: Unisphere (Photos)

The expansion of the United Therapeutics campus, dubbed the Unisphere, is still in the early stages of construction in downtown Silver Spring. Where a parking garage once stood at the corner of Colesville Road and Spring Street, a six-story building, retail and a replacement parking garage will rise over the next couple of years. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Seating, soda installed at Taylor Gourment in Silver Spring (Photos)

The seats are in place inside the soon-to-open Taylor Gourmet in downtown Silver Spring, as is the Puck's Soda dispenser. Taylor Gourmet says they aren't announcing the opening date yet, but it should be very soon. Just in time for the new Spring menu, which includes the Messi hoagie with Citrus-Braised Pork, Green Onion Chimichurri, Fresh Mozzarella, Fresno Chili, Baby Spinach, and Pickled Red Onions.

There's the Puck's Soda
dispenser at the rear of this
photo to the left (teal label)

Attorney seeks freedom, asylum for Rockville rape suspect's father

Adolfo Sanchez-Reyes, father of Rockville High School gang rape suspect Henry Sanchez, was arrested by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency Friday. Now, the younger Sanchez's attorney is vowing to get Sanchez-Reyes out of immigration detention in Jessup, according to the Washington Post.

Attorney Andrew Jezic said he will also ask for asylum for the suspect's father. "We hope to get him out soon, and we will assert grounds for him to stay in the country," Jezic told the Post. While police in Montgomery County have said they never interacted with rape suspects Sanchez and Jose Montano since they arrived here illegally from Central America last year, Sanchez-Reyes has two Maryland traffic citations. The Post reported that one of those citations was for driving without a license.

It appears obvious that, because police were not permitted to check Sanchez-Reyes' citizenship status during a traffic stop, they never knew he was in the country illegally. That left Sanchez-Reyes able to continue living in Montgomery County. He would ultimately be able to serve as guardian for his son after Henry Sanchez was "caught and released" by Border Patrol agents, following Obama administration policy on "unaccompanied minors," after illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexican border seven months ago.

In other words, the alleged gang rape incident might never have occurred at Rockville H.S. on March 16, had the father been deported after driving without a license.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

MoCo Council, at war with their constituents, to fortify their building - literally

The next time you try to testify before the Montgomery County Council, or attempt to meet with your councilmember, you may find yourself being patted down at a TSA airport-style security checkpoint. While doing absolutely nothing in the last 12 days to secure Rockville High School - where one girl was repeatedly kicked in the head, and another gang-raped in a bathroom just weeks later, the Council is moving extremely swiftly to fortify and harden their own office building. In yet another tone-deaf move, and yet another indication of this Council's chronic inability to get over themselves, they are about to spend millions of dollars to screen constituents trying to participate in their own government.

Councilmembers and their staff are of course giving themselves a pass on the pocket-emptyings, patdowns and stripdowns - they will now have card access that allows them to bypass the TSA-style checkpoints you'll have to endure to criticize the budget or their latest crazy scheme. In a rambling dialogue with reporters on the expenditure, which the Council is introducing this morning, Council President Roger Berliner could identify no credible or imminent threat to the Council or their staff that would justify this exorbitant cost.

Directly across Maryland Avenue, Rockville City Hall has no such entry restrictions and security screening (although you can bet they will if the Council sets the precedent).

What's going on here? Do they know of something we don't know - a pending zombie apocalypse, perhaps?

As always with this Council, hubris is a factor, with their delusional sense of self-importance already off-the-charts.

But it's clear that their increasing conflict with their own constituents has led them to believe they must fortify their building against their own people, their own voters. The Council more and more has thumbed their noses at the people of Montgomery County, whether it is in the form of tax hikes, or in the approval of massive developments incompatible with surrounding neighborhoods. With their latest scandal, the gang rape of a 14-year-old girl at Rockville High School, their incompetence and placement of ideology over the public interest has attracted scorching new criticism from across America. The thin-skinned babies aren't used to hearing criticism, and have been throwing one temper tantrum after another as a result.

Knowing that they plan to continue defying the will of the People, they have now concluded that the harsh criticism they've justifiably received is going to escalate into physical violence. For most rational public servants, that would be an indication that something has gone wrong, and that a change of direction is in order.

But not for these clowns. Instead, they're going to keep governing for their own personal and political gain, and simply fortify their building. They've made clear it's acceptable for girls in Montgomery County to live with the risk of being gang-raped, or beaten to the point of hospitalization. But for themselves, they are seeking guaranteed safety, at your expense.

The move is being handled quickly - the public hearing is already scheduled for April 4, 2017, at 1:30 PM.

It's also notable in one other respect. This fortification without any justifying security threat marks the only time the Council has proactively addressed an issue, and - surprise - it's all about them, not us.

The Council never bothered to ensure adequate backup for its 911 system until 2 of its constituents died when it failed. They never bothered to withhold redevelopment rights from older apartment buildings, so landlords wouldn't have an excuse to wind down maintenance and put tenants at risk - until one such building exploded, killing 7 more of their constituents. And even then, while they made a PR stunt of expanding apartment inspections, they quietly declined to actually appropriate the funds to pay for the additional inspectors.

No such problems here. As usual, the only jobs this Council has created have all are in county government. You'll be picking up the tab for the scanners, metal detectors, conveyor belts and pat-downs. In the war against their constituents, and no expense will be spared.

Rockville rape victim-shaming begins; ICE defies MoCo Council, arrests suspect's father

Lawyers for the two illegal immigrants charged with gang-raping a 14-year-old girl in a bathroom at Rockville High School warned in media interviews they would stoop low to defend their clients. Yesterday, they began their campaign of victim-shaming the girl in a court filing. According to the Washington Post, an attorney for alleged rapist Jose Montano, 17, again claims the encounter was consensual.

The attorney, David Wooten, also claims that the victim sent Montano "explicitly compromising images of herself" in text messages, and that she agreed to the encounter in advance via text. There's no indication Wooten has actually provided such evidence to the court yet, as he attempts to get his client bailed out of the unspecified juvenile facility he is locked up in.

Such legal boasts are clearly also an effort to intimidate the victim, in hopes that she will decline to provide the testimony that could put Montano and second suspect Henry Sanchez, 18, behind bars for life. They may also represent a craven attempt to appeal to a psychological weakness found in society regarding rape. "Why do we blame victims?" asked Juliana Breines, PhD, in a 2013 article. "The more innocent a victim, the more threatening they are. Victims threaten our sense that the world is a safe and moral place, where good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. When bad things happen to good people, it implies that no one is safe, that no matter how good we are, we too could be vulnerable."

Yet, even if such texts exist (for the sake of argument), they fail to prove rape didn't occur. "No" still means "no," and police say they have physical evidence of forcible rape in this case.

Meanwhile, for the second time in a week, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) has delivered a cannonball to the gut of Montgomery County elected officials. Even as county politicians were declaring Montgomery wasn't a sanctuary county early last week, ICE at the same moment was releasing a list of such jurisdictions, and MoCo was on it. Yesterday, ICE struck again.

As first reported by Kevin Lewis of ABC7 News, the father of the other accused rapist Henry Sanchez, Adolfo Sanchez-Reyes, has been arrested by ICE agents. This appears to have been the first ICE raid within Montgomery County since President Donald Trump took office. The Montgomery County Council has previously gloated that they have held ICE from conducting raids in the county. This arrest suggests otherwise. Sanchez-Reyes is in the country illegally like his son. He was living in an unidentified apartment complex on Bel Pre Road, and is now behind bars in Jessup awaiting an immigration hearing.

If that wasn't enough, Attorney General Jeff Sessions blasted the Maryland General Assembly's Trust Act Monday, a proposed law that the Montgomery County Council played a major role in writing. Sessions said the Trust act would put "the State of Maryland at more risk for violence and crime," a charge with extra sting in the wake of the Rockville High gang rape and the execution-style murder of a Gaithersburg girl by the MS-13 gang she became involved with at Watkins Mill High School.

In his weekly news conference Monday, County Council President Roger Berliner stressed his belief that Montgomery is not a sanctuary county, but did admit "our county does not honor civil detainer requests," which he considers unconstitutional. He did not explain why he thought the federal government would ask the county to do something that was illegal. But as an attorney, he was careful to use some lawyerly language: "We fully comply with the law as we understand it to be."

Monday, March 27, 2017

Residents rally to demand change, accountability after Rockville HS gang rape (Video+photos)

Hundreds of residents gathered in front of the Montgomery County Council Building in Rockville yesterday to demand elected officials and MCPS be held accountable for their roles in the alleged gang rape of a 14-year-old girl at Rockville High School. Protesters held signs demanding MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith resign, and against Montgomery County sanctuary policies that allowed the girl's alleged attackers to live here and enroll in 9th grade despite being much older. The rape allegedly took place in a bathroom at the school on March 16.

Speakers and notable attendees included Montgomery County Executive candidate Robin Ficker, Montgomery County Council District 2 candidate Edward Amatetti, and Brigitta Mullican, a Rockville resident who has been one of the leading critics of the effort to officially declare Rockville a sanctuary city.

A small group of counter-protesters
were kept separate across the street
by Montgomery County police
A small group of less than 20 counter-protesters set up across Maryland Avenue from the protest, and attempted to shout down speakers throughout the event, despite lacking the numbers to do so. The poor showing was likely due to the fact that very few in the county believe the accused rapists should have been in the 9th grade. And to the mass outrage over the security lapses that facilitated the alleged suspects' brutal bathroom attack, during which they allegedly repeatedly raped and sodomized the victim, as she screamed for help that never came.
Robin Ficker is mobbed by
fans after lowering the boom
on the County Council and MCPS
in his speech
In a speech to the crowd, Ficker ripped County elected officials and MCPS for their mishandling of the Rockville H.S. rape, and of crime in their schools in general. Ficker cited recent reports of violent crimes that occurred at the school just weeks before the gang rape, and were covered up by administrators. In one, a girl was beaten and kicked in the head three times, he said - yet parents were never informed this happened. These were warning signs that should have resulted in tighter security weeks ago, Ficker said.

Ficker suggested the county move 9th grade back to junior high, and leave grades 10, 11 and 12 at the high school level, arguing that kids are being forced to grow up too fast. He noted that, while Rockville H.S. had more than 100 security cameras, no one was monitoring them.

Amatetti paused during his speech to ask the crowd to "pray real, real hard for the young, brave girl" who was the victim in this case. He said the school system and the county have "real problems" that need to be addressed.
Ficker poses with a large
contingent of legal Asian
The crowd was diverse, including Asians, African-Americans and Latinos. One attendee was overheard noting that the counter-protesters across the street were whiter than the crowd they were counter-protesting against.

Several immigrants who had legally achieved citizenship through great effort and cost, or were seeking to do so legally, decried the county's effort to give those who haven't followed the rules special status. Lucas, a resident of Kensington who did not wish to give his last name, said he has been in the U.S. for 3 years on a student visa. Now he has applied for citizenship, and has been told the process will take 3 to 5 years. It's "unfair," he said, for those who broke the rules to gain the rewards of citizenship in Montgomery County before those who play by the rules.

Mullican called it "unfair for the legal immigrants who waited their turn and came here through the system." She emigrated legally to America from Germany with her family in 1956, and had to wait until 1968 to become a citizen. "I understand the immigration process, and the privilege of being a U.S. citizen," she said.

Several attendees carried signs demanding the resignation of MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith, Smith has so far declined to comply with the growing calls locally and nationally for him to step down. He has gained national notoriety for seeming more concerned about immigration politics than about the rape victim. Smith "speaks far more harshly about xenophobia than he does about sexual assault of a child," said Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson.
Bethesda resident Jerry Cave
was master of
ceremonies for the rally

Montgomery County
Young Republicans VP
Dan McHugh

Parents want
Smith out

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Citizens to rally Sunday for MoCo Council/MCPS accountability after Rockville HS gang rape

Community outrage over the alleged gang rape of a 14-year-old student in a bathroom at Rockville High School last week has spawned a rally planned for tomorrow, Sunday, March 26, at 4:00 PM, in front of the Montgomery County Council building at 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville. Speakers will include community activists and organizations, and political candidates who will be running in 2018.

While emotions are running high over the gang rape, rally organizers say they're asking attendees to protest with a "firm but calm demeanor" - and to create and bring their own signs.

Many blame the County Executive, County Council and Montgomery County Public Schools for policies and security lapses which they feel allowed the bathroom assault to occur. Those officials' decision to wait several days to comment publicly, their often tone-deaf response, and the sense that they were angrier about criticism directed at them than about the rape itself, further outraged county residents. MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith was blasted for an inept response, and pilloried online for calling parents racists and xenophobes. A petition is now calling for Smith's resignation. It has 1387 signatures at press time.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Attorney for Rockville HS rape suspect says incident was "not a rape in any sense"

Henry Sanchez
Promises defense will
put 14-year-old victim's
"character into play"

A lawyer with the law firm representing one of the two alleged assailants in the gang rape of a 14-year-old girl at Rockville High School last week outlined the defense his team will pursue last night on Fox News. His client, 18-year-old Henry Sanchez, is an illegal immigrant who was enrolled as a "freshman" at the school.

Graphic details in the police report suggest a violent, bloody scene, with the victim screaming for help as she was allegedly assaulted, raped and sodomized by Sanchez and Jose Montano, 17. But according to Sanchez's defense attorney, David Moyse, "This was a consensual encounter, not a rape in any sense."

Appearing on Tucker Carlson Tonight last night, Moyse asserted that there is no evidence to suggest the incident was "in any way illegal." Despite being an attorney, Moyse was apparently unaware that any sexual encounter between an adult and a 14-year-old is, in fact, illegal. Even if all parties claim it was consensual, it is still statutory rape.

Moyse hinted that his team will potentially trash the victim in court. "I'm sure there could be a number of questions asked about all three of the people involved," he told Carlson. Moyse said the defense will put her "character into play."

Some have questioned how Sanchez can afford a respected defense team to represent him, while Montano has only a public defender. Pressed by Carlson on who is paying for the firm's services, Moyse declined to answer.

Silver Spring construction update: Taylor Gourmet (Photos)

The interior build-out of the new Taylor Gourmet at 8535 Fenton Street looks nearly finished. Furniture is now inside. Taylor Gourmet recently celebrated the reopening of its H Street flagship store in the District, so I have to believe that downtown Silver Spring will be next.