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Female Counselors Accused of Molesting Boys at Group Home

Lawsuit filed by three former students claims widespread abuse was condoned by officials at Boys Republic in Chino Hills.

May 07, 2003|David Rosenzweig | Times Staff Writer

Three former students at Boys Republic, a nationally recognized residential facility for wayward teenagers in Chino Hills, have charged in a lawsuit that they were sexually abused by female counselors at the institution.

The action, filed in U.S. District Court last week, contends that female counselors also provided them with illegal drugs and alcohol and that the abuses were widespread and known to top management officials.

Founded in 1907 as a nonprofit institution, Boys Republic provides counseling, education and training to teenagers referred by the California Youth Authority and juvenile court judges.

The main campus is a 200-acre farm where students live in cottages, each housing 25 boys. Smaller residential facilities are located in Los Angeles, Pomona and Santa Ana. The organization also operates a Girls Republic in Monrovia.

The lawsuit alleges that Boys Republic allowed, condoned and encouraged female counselors to engage in sex with minor boys, and that staff executives even joked about it among themselves.

Boys Republic referred questions about the case to its attorney, who was not available for comment Tuesday.

A former counselor named in the suit, Sheryl Lee, 23, was arrested by San Bernardino County sheriff's detectives last year, and is awaiting trial on charges of having sex with five youths, ages 15 to 17, at Boys Republic.

Lee, who is free on bail, has denied the allegations, saying she had consensual sex with one student after he turned 18 and was raped by another youth. She has denied having sex with the other three boys.

Chip Patterson, a spokesman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, said the case came to light when one youth told his parents, who then notified authorities. Patterson said no other counselors had been implicated.

But Michael S. Traylor, a Los Angeles attorney who filed the federal lawsuit, said it was common knowledge at Boys Republic that other female counselors were having sex with teenagers under their care.

"Many of the boys knew about the practice, even before they got there," he said. "That's how widely known it was."

Traylor said some former students he interviewed told him that they had tried to talk about their sexual encounters during group therapy sessions at the facility but had been discouraged from doing so.

The lawsuit asserts that some boys were threatened with being sent to a juvenile penal facility if they spoke up.

It also alleges that three plaintiffs, who were minors when they attended Boys Republic and are now 19 to 21, suffered severe mental and emotional distress, humiliation, ridicule and contempt because of the alleged incidents. They are seeking $30 million in damages.

By failing to take prompt corrective action, the suit alleges, Boys Republic also violated the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act and the state's Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, as well as the boys' civil rights.

In addition to Boys Republic, the suit names as defendants the state and San Bernardino County, which license the facility as a group home.

This is the second such lawsuit brought against Boys Republic. In November, three of the five boys who said they had sex with Lee sued the facility in San Bernardino Superior Court, also claiming that the facility's management tried to cover up the allegations and delayed reporting them to authorities.

After Lee's arrest, the San Bernardino County district attorney's office considered prosecuting Boys Republic's executive director, Max Scott, for allegedly failing to notify law enforcement authorities, as required under California law. The office eventually declined to prosecute Scott.

The law requires counselors, clergy, teachers, doctors and people in more than 25 other job categories to report allegations of child abuse to the police.

Since its founding 96 years ago, Boys Republic has assisted more than 23,000 teenage boys and girls from Southern California, according to a recent annual report, through a program that emphasizes accountability, participation in communal life, self-esteem and work. One of its most famous alumni was the late screen star Steve McQueen.

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