In scouting, trust is important, and troops act as a family to address problems. How did that backfire in Burnsville?

By JOY POWELL
Minneapolis Star Tribune
October 24, 2009

Over the past half-dozen years or so, a few parents of Boy Scouts in Burnsville learned things that bothered them about Peter Stibal II, the scoutmaster now jailed on charges that he molested three scouts.

They learned that he had been alone with individual scouts — at the movies, in his truck for private "driving lessons," at his cabin and in his home — all violations of scouting’s "two-deep" policy, which requires two adults to be present during scout activities.

John Nelson of Burnsville and other parents complained to local Troop 650 volunteer leaders. Nelson said those leaders admonished Stibal to stop violating the policy. But Kent York, an official for scouting’s regional umbrella organization, said the violations weren’t reported higher up the organizational chain, as they should have been.

"If any concerns had been shared with Northern Star Council, we have very specific procedures in place that we follow," York said. "No, none of the concerns had been shared with us."

York said parents or volunteers should have reported the violations to the scout executive (CEO) of the council. York said the council is conducting a review and will use the situation as a "teachable moment" for the organization.

Stibal, 44, was charged Wednesday in Dakota County District Court with six felony counts of allegedly molesting three scouts through sexual penetration and other acts between 2002 and 2008. Court documents say he kept child pornography on his home computer and showed it to a scout.

Burnsville police say the pool of potential victims is widening to possibly include several more scouts or former scouts and other boys who knew Stibal through his position as a substitute bus driver for special-needs students in School District 191.

Stibal had no criminal record that would have triggered concern during a background check, which the Boy Scouts require, York said.

He noted that the Boy Scouts have not had a problem like this in many years, even with 20,000 volunteers working with 100,000 young people each year.

"It is our constant goal to never have a failure of the safeguards, and our success rate is phenomenally high," he said.

So how could Stibal’s alleged abuse of boys have gone on for years?

"You can have all the policies in the world, but if you don’t implement them, follow them, and tell everybody what they are, they do no good," said Kelly Clark, an attorney in Portland, Ore., who has handled more than 200 cases of childhood sexual abuse, including nearly two dozen involving Boy Scouts.

Clark said parents and scouts must be trained to understand the two-deep policy and specifically what to do if it’s violated.

He said they must be told: "If you ever, ever see an adult leader or scoutmaster or volunteer violating that two-deep policy, here is the number you call."

‘Charm, bribe and trick’

Spotting pedophiles can be tough, Clark said, especially when they have no criminal history.

"Perpetrators have social intelligence regarding kids that is off the charts," he said. "They know how and when to threaten, to charm, to bribe, to trick kids into believing that what we are doing is OK, that you shouldn’t tell anyone.

"The Scouts know this because they have more experience with child abuse than anyone in the country, and have for about 50 years. But if they don’t share that knowledge with the parents and the kids, if they don’t train the kids, train the parents, on the way these perps operate, then they have failed the kids and the parents."

York said Northern Star Council officials will talk to some of the parents in Troop 650 and review the council’s policies and procedures.

All parents are provided with a booklet on youth protection when their son receives his handbook, he said. They are asked to review that booklet with their son so both understand how to recognize a possible abuser, and how to respond, York said.

One section of the booklet details a child’s rights, the three "r’s" (recognize, resist and report), how to protect oneself on the Internet, scenarios of inappropriate touching or behavior, and the importance of talking to parents.

York also said the two-deep rule and a "separate sleeping accommodations" rule are embedded in training videos, leader training and leader handbooks.

"The boys who came forward to report a breach of their and their parents’ trust by this man have done the right thing," he added. "They are brave and acted like scouts."

Joy Powell • 952-882-9017