PORTLAND -- Again and again, decade after decade, an array of authorities -- police chiefs, prosecutors, pastors and local Boy Scout leaders -- quietly shielded scoutmasters and others accused of molesting children, a newly opened trove of confidential papers shows.
The hush-up numerous was revealed Thursday in nearly 15,000 pages of so-called "perversion files" compiled by the Scouts from 1959 to the mid-1980s.
Portland attorney Kelly Clark released the files. Files are sortable by name, year, city and state.
The files document allegations of sex abuse by Scouting volunteers across the country. The Scouts have been collecting the documents since the early 1900s, and continue to do so.
"You do not keep secrets hidden about dangers to children," said Clark at a news conference, who in 2010 won a landmark lawsuit in Oregon against the Boy Scouts on behalf of a plaintiff who was molested by an assistant scoutmaster in the 1980s.
Clark's colleague, Paul Mones, said the files in the Portland case represent "the pain and anguish of thousands of Scouts" who were abused by Scout leaders.
"These guys (abusers) basically were in a candy store, the way they thought about it," Mones said.
Examples of files kept secret
In many instances -- more than a third, according to the Scouts' own count -- police weren't told about the reports of abuse. And even when they were, sometimes local law enforcement still did nothing, seeking to protect the name of Scouting over their victims.
Victims like three brothers, growing up in northeast Louisiana.
On the afternoon of Aug. 10, 1965, their distraught mother walked into the third floor of the Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Office. A 31-year-old scoutmaster, she told the chief criminal deputy, had raped one of her sons and molested two others.
Six days later, the scoutmaster, an unemployed airplane mechanic, sat down in front of a microphone in the same station, said he understood his rights and confessed: He had sexually abused the woman's sons more than once.
"I don't know how to tell it," the man told a sheriff's deputy. "They just occurred -- I don't know an explanation, why we done it or I done it or wanted to do it or anything else it just -- an impulse I guess or something.
"As far as an explanation I just couldn't dig one up."
He wouldn't have to. Seven days later, the decision was made not to pursue charges against the scoutmaster.
The last sliver of hope for justice for the abuse of two teenagers and an 11-year-old boy slipped away in a confidential letter from a Louisiana Scouts executive to the organization's national personnel division in New Jersey.
"This subject and Scouts were not prosecuted," the executive wrote, "to save the name of Scouting."
Early review of "perversion files" from Washington
Earlier this month the KING 5 Investigators obtained 50 of the "perversion files," also known as the "Ineligible Volunteer files," related to Scout leaders in Washington state. The files are dated from 1974 to 1991. Analysis found that the cases weren’t confined to one or two cities, but were based on incidents across the state. In the majority of cases the Boy Scouts found out about the suspected abuse from the media or law enforcement.
In a few cases suspicions of abuse came into the Scouting organization, but instead of calling Child Protective Services or law enforcement, a file was created with evidence of suspected abuse, then the leader was quietly removed from Scouting with no call made to police.
One such case involved a Scoutmaster in Seattle in 1988. Another file detailed a similar event in Kennewick in 1991. In a 1987 case near Bellingham, a leader was allowed back into Scouting leadership after a conviction for sex crimes against children. The file contains a letter indicating fellow leaders believed he deserved to come back to Scouting “because he has done so much for (Scout) camp and is a nice guy.”
Predators went free while victims suffered
The documents reveal that on many occasions the files succeeded in keeping pedophiles out of Scouting leadership positions -- the reason why they were collected in the first place. But the files are also littered with horrific accounts of alleged pedophiles who were able to continue in Scouting because of pressure from community leaders and local Scouts officials.
The files also document other troubling patterns. There is little mention in the files of concern for the welfare of Scouts who were abused by their leaders, or what was done for the victims. But there are numerous documents showing compassion for alleged abusers, who were often times sent to psychiatrists or pastors to get help.
In 1972, a local Scouting executive beseeched national headquarters to drop the case against a suspected abuser because he was undergoing professional treatment and was personally taking steps to solve his problem. "If it don't stink, don't stir it," the local executive wrote.
Scouting's efforts to keep abusers out were often disorganized. There's at least one memo from a local Scouting executive pleading for better guidance on how to handle abuse allegations. Sometimes the pleading went the other way, with national headquarters begging local leaders for information on suspected abusers, and the locals dragging their feet.
In numerous instances, alleged abusers are kicked out of Scouting but show up in jobs where they are once again in authority positions dealing with youths.
The files also show Scouting volunteers serving in the military overseas, molesting American children living abroad and sometimes continuing to molest after returning to the states.
But one of the most startling revelations to come from the files is the frequency with which attempts to protect Scouts from molesters collapsed at the local level, at times in collusion with community leaders.
It happened when a local district attorney declined to prosecute two confessed offenders; when a three-judge panel included two men on the local Scouting executive board; when law enforcement sought to protect the name of Scouting and let an admitted child molester go free.
Their actions represent a stark betrayal, says Clark, who won the case that opened the files to public view.
"It's kind of a deal. The deal is, our society will give you incredible status and respect, Norman Rockwell will paint pictures of you, and in exchange for that, you take care of our kids," Clark said. "That's the deal, incredible respect and privilege. But there was a worm in the apple."
More about the landmark 2007 Oregon case
Kelly Clark has been in possession of the "perversion files" since he represented former Boy Scout Kerry Lewis, now 40. Lewis sued the Boy Scouts of America on grounds that they failed to protect him from the abuse he suffered as a young teen at the hands of his assistant scoutmaster in the 1980s.
The man who sexually abused Lewis over a two-year period, Assistant Scoutmaster Timur Dykes, confessed in 1983 to a Scouting leader, a Mormon bishop, that he had molested 17 boys in his troop. According to testimony at trial, instead of warning parents or calling police, the bishop slowly allowed Dykes back into Scouting. The next year Dykes began molesting Lewis when the Scout was 13. Dykes was convicted of the crimes and served prison time in Oregon. He is currently a Portland resident and a registered sex offender.
After five years, the lawsuit culminated with a jury agreeing with Lewis, and the Scouts were ordered to pay $20 million.
Files on 1,200 suspected abusers were used in evidence in that case. The Scouts launched a legal battle to keep the documents confidential, but the Oregon Supreme Court ruled in June they could be released to the public with the redaction of victims' names.
"They were asleep at the switch. They didn't pay any attention to what was in their files and just kept everything the same," Clark told KING 5 News. “Just like they said to kids when the clouds gather and you start hearing the thunder, get off the ridge. They trained kids on how to avoid getting hit by lightning. Why didn’t they train kids on how to avoid getting molested? You see, that’s where they dropped the ball.”
Chris Sullivan with KIRO Radio was a Cub Scout and Boy Scout in Portland during the very period in question.
"When I read part of the cases, and it says 'conviction was passed up the line...but figured he wasn't a threat...but allowed to continue.' I go really!?!?" said Sullivan.
Today, Sullivan is a cubmaster for his son's troop in Everett. He says things have changed in the past 10-20 years.
"Mandatory reporting, all these kinds of things you may not have had to think about 20 years ago, 10 years ago even, now these are drilled into us," he said. "We focus on these things, because nobody wants this to happen. And we don't want to the Scouts get a bad name. It's hard to get out from under that."
More related Links:
Boy Scouts of America website
Boy Scouts statement on release of "perversion files"
KING 5 Investigators: Analysis of some of Washington's "perversion files"
Boy Scouts hire independent review of files (full report)
Boy Scout Youth Protection program