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Scouts employ aggressive tactics in abuse defense

Organization often played legal hardball against accusers in molestation cases, say attorneys and families.

December 24, 2012|By Kim Christensen

The abuse occurred in 2006 and 2007, when both boys were younger than 14, according to the lawsuit. It also says that local Scouting officials knew of Young's inappropriate behavior, including time he spent alone with the boys — in violation of the Scouts' child-protection policies — but ignored warnings by police and others.

In 2007, a member of the Big Sister organization found the boys not wearing pants while alone with Young at their home and at a motel where the family was staying, according to court papers and a police affidavit. In at least one instance, Young was in his underwear, the records state.

Local Scouts officials took no action, allowing Young to continue with the troop even after police raised red flags about him, the lawsuit states. In October 2009, he was charged with possessing child pornography and criminal sexual conduct involving one of the boys.

He killed himself the next month.

Two years later, in November 2011, the Scouts filed court papers saying the mother had in effect abdicated her role and delegated “parental authority” to Young after her husband died.

“For the Scouts to say this is her fault, when they have said to single mothers all over the country … ‘We know you've got it tough: Give us your boys and we'll help you raise them' — to me, this is absolutely astonishing,” said Clark, the boys' lawyer.

In at least one case, local Scout leaders faulted the victim and defended the perpetrator.

“They threw my son under the bus,” said the father of a Florida Scout who was 12 when a 16-year-old Scout lured him into a tent and molested him in March 2007.

The boy was so traumatized that he told no one for months, he and his father said in an interview. When the boy did speak up, local Scout leaders accused him of lying.

“[He] is quick to make up stories,” the troop's merit badge counselor, Chuck Janson, wrote in a two-page memo supporting the assailant, who later admitted to the sexual assault in a plea deal.

The abuse occurred on a camping trip when the older Scout, Robert “Robbie” Brehm, who as senior patrol leader was the top elected troop member, invited the Sarasota boy into a tent to play cards, court records show. Instead, Brehm pulled a knife from a duffel bag and put it to the boy's throat.

“I told him I wanted him to perform oral sex on me,” Brehm later said in a lengthy sworn statement. “I told him that he had to or else I was going to hurt him.”

Brehm testified that he also threatened the younger Scout if he told anyone.

“I was just so freaking scared, like, I didn't know what the hell to do,” the boy, now 18, told The Times. “I just went back into my tent.... I was in shock. I was so violated.”

Six months later, he revealed his secret to his high school counselor, who notified authorities.

Local Scout leaders including Janson, who had clashed with the boy's father over troop issues, sided with Brehm and said the boy was lying.

He and at least two other adult leaders planned to testify for the accused, according to interviews and Brehm's sworn statement.

“The worst thing you can do to a child victim is call him a liar,” said Adam Horowitz, the victim's lawyer in a pending lawsuit. “The reason so many children don't come forward in the first place is that they fear adults won't believe them.”

In a recent interview and a follow-up email, Janson defended his actions.

“I came up with an honest interpretation of what I knew,” he said. “Can you fault someone for having an honest opinion?”

The boy said he felt betrayed by Janson and the other leaders.

His father said their support of Brehm made it nearly impossible for his son to get justice.

For more than three years, he said, he pressed prosecutors to file charges. When they did, and confronted Brehm with the prospect of 15 years in prison, he confessed to the sexual assault and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of aggravated battery.

“Looking back, I was a bully,” Brehm said in statement.

The victim's father calls the five-year ordeal “beyond a nightmare.” His son's relationships have been affected, his grades have suffered and he's had flashbacks, the father said.

At times during the first year after the attack, he said, the boy was in twice-weekly therapy, with only part of its cost covered by his health plan.

Had the Boy Scouts stepped up early on, he said, his son's lawsuit might never have been filed.

“After we got the conviction, one would have thought they'd say, ‘Oh, my God, we were wrong in our assumptions. What can we do to help this child and his family?'” he said. “But it was just more of the same — attack, attack, attack.”

kim.christensen@latimes.com

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