Frustration as Judge Changes Mind on Politically Fraught School Sex Crimes

Frustration has mounted as a Loudoun County judge reversed an earlier decision and ruled to not place a 15-year-old on a sex offender registry even though the teen was convicted of sexually assaulting two girls in two different high school buildings.

The assaults became a major issue in Virginia's most recent gubernatorial race. A parent of one of the victims has called the ruling "horrific."

On Thursday, Pamela Brooks, a judge in the 20th Judicial District's Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court in Virginia, reversed her January decision to place the teen on the sex offender registry.

When Brooks first decided to place the publicly unnamed teen on the registry, she noted that she had never placed a juvenile on the registry before, The Washington Post noted. However, she decided to place the teen on the registry after she read the suspect's psychological evaluation.

"What I read in those reports scared me," Brooks said. "It scared me for your family. It scared me for society."

Loudoun County judge teen sexual offender registry
Frustration has mounted as a Loudoun County judge reversed her decision to place a teen on the sex offender registry after the assault of two girls on school property. The incident became a political flashpoint in the 2021 Virginia gubernatorial election. Above, a woman sits with her sign during a Loudoun County Public Schools board meeting in Ashburn, Virginia, on October 12, 2021. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP/Getty

However, at the Thursday hearing, a probation officer testified that teens placed on the registry have a greater chance of offending again. The registry makes offenders publicly identifiable, subjecting them to harassment and making it more difficult for them to secure housing and employment.

Defense attorneys argued that prosecutors didn't file a written motion to place the teen on the registry before Brooks made her January ruling. The judge agreed with them, but gave prosecutors a chance to argue for the teen's inclusion on the registry in a Thursday morning hearing.

When announcing her decision on Thursday, Brooks said, "This court made an error in my initial ruling. The court is not vain enough to think it's perfect, but I want to get it right."

"Perhaps this will provide some additional information for the national conversation," she said, mentioning studies that "adolescent brains don't stop developing till age 27," WTOP reported.

As a result of the judge's revised decision, the teen won't be placed on the registry. However, the teen's original sentence still stands, and the teen will remain in a juvenile rehabilitation center until age 18.

Right-wing media outlets like The Daily Wire, The Blaze and Breitbart News have expressed outrage over the decision, and so has the parent of one of the victims.

"[Putting the convicted teen on the sex offender registry] was a safety measure for everyone in all states, not Virginia, not Leesburg. Wherever [the teen] may go," one victim's father, Scott Smith, told WUSA. "What happened today was horrific. Hopefully, [the teen] doesn't offend again. If [the teen] does, it's not on me. It's on them. I fought to the bitter end."

"We are quite frankly mad at the justice system and the Loudoun Commonwealth's attorney," Smith wrote in a separate statement to WJLA-TV.

"The person who committed these horrible crimes ... will not have to bear the shame at being known as a lifetime registered sex offender ... Rather, we are now concerned more than ever that this change in [the teen's] legal status may put other parents' daughters at risk of harm in the future."

On May 28, 2021, the teen assaulted a girl in a bathroom in Stone Bridge High School. After being placed under court-ordered electronic monitoring, the teen was then allowed back onto school property. Five months later, the teen sexually assaulted another girl, on October 6, 2021, at Broad Run High School.

Loudoun County parents were angered that neither the school nor the district notified parents after the assaults occurred. Angry parents then called on Loudoun County School District Superintendent Scott Ziegler to resign for allegedly covering up the assaults.

The Loudoun County School Board said in a statement that it chose not to publicly comment on either incident to avoid interfering with a police investigation.

Then-Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin successfully capitalized on the incident amid his campaign to give parents more of a voice in school policies.

Before the height of election season, the school district made national headlines in the summer when protesters devolved into violence, shutting down a school board meeting over complaints about critical race theory and a board vote approving transgender-inclusive student policies.

The policies allowed trans students to use school facilities and play on sports teams matching their gender identity. The policy passed in a 7-2 vote in August.

Smith told The Daily Wire that the teen wore a skirt during the assaults, leading news outlets to refer to the offender as a transgender person.

However, prosecutors never mentioned the offender's gender identity. While some parents blamed the assaults on the district's trans bathroom policy, others pointed out that the bathroom assault occurred before the policy was passed.