Mother sues WJ Crew Club, alleging negligence and sexual assault


Jeffrey Cirillo, Co-Online News Editor

Much of the Walter Johnson community got a major shock on a Tuesday morning earlier this month, when a local ABC news affiliate reported that the mother of a WJ student had filed a lawsuit against the Walter Johnson Crew Club and a former assistant coach. The mother is alleging that the former coach had sex with her underage daughter, and that the Crew organization did not do enough to protect her.

The lawsuit, filed in the Montgomery County Circuit Court, names Walter Johnson Crew Club Inc., its Board of Directors and former coach Justin Mack as defendants. The lawsuit accuses Mack of having sex with the student on a Rockville golf course on Sept. 10. The mother is seeking at least $5 million in damages for emotional distress, medical costs, and other expenses related to the incident.

An archived version of the WJ Crew website from May 2015 listed Mack as a “Strength and Conditioning Coach.”

The suit alleges that the encounter amounts to sexual assault due to Mack’s age and position of authority. It further accuses the WJ Crew organization of negligence in hiring Mack in 2012, who had a previous history of criminal activity. Mack was convicted for embezzling $30,000 from a gym he worked at in 2007 and 2008.

Eric Voit, the Chairman of the WJ Crew Club’s Board of Directors, declined to comment on the case at the advice of legal counsel. However, he added that “WJ student rowers are now impacted [by the case] through absolutely no fault of their own.”

In an email to Crew parents, Voit said the board is “sickened by the allegations, and heartbroken for the girl and her family.” He also said that Mack is “not currently associated with the team, and has not been since last [spring].”

If successful, the suit could mean significant financial hardship for the WJ Crew organization. Furthermore, some have suggested that a ruling in favor of the mother could implicate more than just Mack and the Crew club. The club hovers in a fuzzy gray area between affiliated and unaffiliated school groups: it is not an official school sport, but much of its funding comes from the WJ Booster Club, a WJ parent organization with extensive ties to the school.

A former WJ Crew rower, who chose to remain anonymous, said that news of the lawsuit came as a shock to many Crew club members, and it impacted them very strongly to hear the allegations about their former coach.

“I couldn’t believe that this happened to the team,” the former rower said. “It’s awful what happened, and I feel really bad for the girl. I hope there’s some sort of conclusion to this.”

The civil suit may have been motivated in part by the fact that, due to Maryland’s consent laws, Mack cannot be charged with a crime for the alleged incident. Local lawmakers have since said that Mack is only able to walk free due to a loophole in state law, and suggested that this loophole ought to be closed.