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Boy Scouts sued in sexual abuse case

A Santa Barbara County boy was sexually abused by his Scout leader in 2007. A judge overseeing the lawsuit brought by the boy's family has ordered the Boy Scouts to hand over confidential files detailing allegations of sexual abuse by Scout leaders around the nation.

February 19, 2012|By Kim Christensen, Los Angeles Times

The mother of a Santa Barbara County teenager says he was wronged twice — once by the 450-pound Boy Scout leader who sexually abused him in 2007, and then by a local Scouts executive who she says told her not to call police.

"He said that wasn't necessary, because the Scouts do their own internal investigation," said the woman, whose name The Times is withholding to protect her son's identity. "I thought that was really weird.... I thought it was really important to call the sheriff right away."

So she did, triggering an investigation of volunteer Scout leader Al Steven Stein, then 29, who was charged with abusing her 92-pound son and two other boys. In 2009, he pleaded no contest to felony child endangerment. He was put on probation but later went to prison after authorities found pictures of nude children on his cellphone data card.

Stein's criminal case is closed. But its fallout is far from over for the boy, who is now 17 and, according to his mother, so traumatized by the ordeal that he seldom leaves the house.

Nor is it over for the Boy Scouts of America, which is being sued by the boy's family for negligence in a case whose ramifications could reach well beyond Santa Barbara.

The lawsuit contends the Scouts knew or should have known that Stein had put the boy at risk and cites the executive's reluctance to call police as evidence of an effort to conceal widespread sexual abuse.

In addition to unspecified damages, the lawsuit seeks to force the Scouts to hand over thousands of confidential files detailing allegations of sexual abuse by Scout leaders and others around the nation. It contends the files will expose the Scouts' "culture of hidden sexual abuse" and its failure to warn boys, their parents and others about the "pedophilic wolves" who have long infiltrated one of America's oldest youth organizations.

In January, after reviewing some of the files, a Santa Barbara Superior Court judge rejected the Scouts' argument that the documents are irrelevant to the lawsuit and ordered the organization to turn over the most recent 20 years' worth of records to the boy's lawyers by Feb. 24, with victims' names removed. The judge ordered the lawyers not to disclose the files publicly.

Known as "ineligible volunteer files," the documents have been maintained since the 1920s and are intended to keep suspected molesters and others accused of misconduct out of Scouting. Scouts officials have steadfastly resisted releasing them and won't discuss their contents, citing the privacy rights of victims and the fact that many files are based on unproven allegations.

They strenuously dispute that the files have been used to conceal sexual abuse.

"These files exist solely to keep out individuals whose actions are inconsistent with the standards of Scouting, and Scouts are safer because of them," said Deron Smith, public relations director of Boy Scouts of America.

Some of the estimated 5,000 files have surfaced in recent years as a result of lawsuits by former Scouts accusing the organization of failing to exclude known pedophiles, detect abuses and report offenders to police, allowing predators to remain at large.

"They have created these ticking time bombs who are walking through society and nobody knows their identities except the Scouts," said Timothy Hale, one of the lawyers for the Santa Barbara County boy.

The Oregon Supreme Court is considering a petition by media organizations in one case to release files for a 20-year period ending in 1985.

The Santa Barbara case is significant because it seeks to unlock files that have never been turned over by the Scouts, including all since 2005. It is also noteworthy because it alleges wrongdoing that took place relatively recently, even as the Scouts have stepped up protective efforts.

According to the lawsuit, Stein had a history of inappropriate behavior with children he'd met through Scouting, including "making sexual jokes and comments" in front of Scouts and in some cases pulling down their pants. In November 2007, he abused the Santa Barbara County boy, who was 13 at the time.

"Stein used his 450 pounds to pin the boy with sufficient force to cause bruising, ripped the boy's pants down to the point the boy suffered a laceration at his belt line, and then fondled the boy's genitals while commenting on them," the lawsuit states.

When the boy told his mother about the abuse a few days later, she said, she called the Scouts' offices to report it and spoke with David Tate, then the Los Padres Council scout executive. She said Tate initially tried to talk her out of calling the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department and relented only when she insisted.

Tate, now a top Scouts official in New York, declined to comment. Messages left for his lawyer and the Scouts' attorney in the lawsuit were fielded by Smith, who issued a prepared statement detailing the Scouts' efforts to curb sexual abuse.

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