By Aimee Green, The Oregonian
A Multnomah County jury said the Boy Scouts of America must pay $18.5 million for the sexual abuse a former Scout suffered as a child — the largest such award levied against the organization.
Attorneys for the former Scout, 38-year-old Kerry Lewis, said the vast majority of sexual-abuse lawsuits against the Boy Scouts of America since the 1980s have settled quietly, and the issue largely has stayed out of the national spotlight. They said Friday’s verdict, however, exposed the organization’s dark history with pedophiles and its unwillingness to come to terms with the problem.
"What we saw here in Portland has really pulled back the covers on the Boy Scouts of America," said Paul Mones, one of Lewis’ attorneys, speaking to a crowd of local and national reporters. Mones said that although he considers the organization generally safe, it needs "to be open and honest" about pedophiles who are drawn to its volunteer ranks.
Attorneys for the Boy Scouts swiftly left the courthouse, saying they were not able to comment pending appeal. They also added that six other boys abused by the same Scout leader as Lewis have cases pending against the organization. However, the Boy Scouts posted a general statement on its website, which said in part: More
"The Boy Scouts of America has always stood against child abuse of any kind and is always looking for ways to improve its Youth Protection strategies."
Minutes after the verdict, a tearful Lewis hugged his mother. Flanked by attorneys Mones and Kelly Clark, Lewis described the decision to sue — and testify in open court — as "very scary." When he was 11 or 12 years old, Lewis was repeatedly molested by Timur Dykes, a Southeast Portland assistant Scoutmaster.
Lewis and his attorneys said they hoped the verdict would make Scouting safer.
"If I was able to help save one person, this was all worth it," Lewis said.
Oregon law requires that 60 percent — or $11.1 million of the $18.5 million punitive-damages verdict — goes to the state’s crime victim’s compensation fund.
The Lewis case could spur a flood of litigation by former Scouts who were allegedly abused in recent decades and whose abuse was documented by the Texas-based organization in thousands of so-called "perversion" files. Multnomah County Judge John Wittmayer ordered the Scouts to turn over more than 1,000 of the files, created from 1965 to 1985.
The Boy Scouts said they created the files to track suspected pedophiles and prevent them from ever volunteering again. But Lewis’ attorneys argued that the organization knew of its decadeslong problem of pedophiles but failed to warn parents and boys.
Expert on abuse
The only other case in which a jury got to view some of the files ended with a $45,000 verdict in the 1980s against a local council of the Boy Scouts in Virginia, said Patrick Boyle, author of "Scout’s Honor" and a leading national expert in sexual abuse in Scouting.Next month, Wittmayer will hear arguments from media organizations — including The Associated Press and The Oregonian — about whether he should make public the files used as evidence in the trial. The Boy Scouts are fighting to prevent that disclosure. Lewis’ attorneys also said they expect local and national organizations that advocate for victims of child abuse to join the fight to release the files.
Boyle said he’s waiting to see if Friday’s verdict prompts the nearly $1 billion organization to act.
"Will the BSA finally admit that it has a sex-abuse problem?" said Boyle, who is also editor of Youth Today, a publication base in Washington, D.C. "Are they going to apologize like the Catholic Church has done? Are they going to study their files like the Catholic Church has done?
" … The Boy Scouts for the first time are facing a financial threat," Boyle said. "They can’t afford to be paying out this kind of money to victims of abuse."
Jurors deliberated for a full day before issuing their 9-3 decision, ending a six-week trial. Last week, during the first-phase of the trial, the same jury said the Boy Scouts of America and its Portland-based body, the Cascade Pacific Council, must pay the former Scout more than $1 million for pain and suffering he’s endured, including drug abuse and trouble forming relationships.
During the trial’s punitive phase, the jury was asked how much the Boy Scouts of America should have to pay to deter future lapses and to punish past "reprehensible" acts against Lewis. The Oregonian, which usually protects the identity of sexual-abuse victims, is identifying Lewis after he gave permission.
In closing arguments Thursday, Chuck Smith, an attorney for the Boy Scouts of America, discounted the importance of an apology.
"You’ve heard the argument we haven’t apologized to the plaintiff, we haven’t apologized to the parents, we haven’t apologized to the country," Smith said. "Had there been an apology, what would these lawyers be telling you?: ‘Why did it take so long?’"
Then, Smith added: "Is the only way to prevent child sexual abuse … to apologize?"
Smith argued that the organization has been a leader in preventing child abuse. The organization asked child-abuse experts to help design child-protection training for volunteers starting in the late 1980s. The organization has 2.8 million boys and 1.1 million adult leaders.
Videos also are shown to parents and boys warning about situations that could lead to sexual abuse by adults, including actors playing the role of a sport coach or an uncle. The organization also created rules to prevent children from ever being alone with one adult.
Since 2003, the organization has run criminal background checks on volunteers.
Lewis’ attorneys argued that the organization has turned a blind eye to publicly addressing a core problem: None of the materials given to boys and their parents warns them that Scout leaders could be a threat.
"Not one mention," Mones said.
Lewis’ attorneys called upon the testimony of a Texas woman, who said her son was molested by an assistant Scoutmaster from 2003 to 2006. The man bought her son and another boy gifts and took her son on camping trips, where he molested him. She said she’d gone over warnings about child abuse in the Scouting handbook with her son, but it didn’t specifically warn her that a trusted Scout leader could pose a threat.
After last week’s verdict, the Boy Scouts said they plan to appeal.