Three former Sunnyvale residents announced today they have sued the Mormon church, the Boy Scouts of America and their stepfather in San Francisco Superior Court for alleged childhood sexual abuse.
The three men, who are brothers now aged 39, 41 and 43, claim that William E. Knox, 65, a Mormon church and Boy Scouts leader, molested them repeatedly in Sunnyvale between 1977 and 1987.
A brother identified as John Doe 2, who now lives in Georgia, said, "I’m a victim and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. It was devastating to me. I’ve been abused hundreds of times over several years."
The brother alleged, "During the abuse, I told the church leadership responsible to protect me and they did nothing to protect me."
Knox married the brothers’ mother in 1979 and remains married to her, but the brothers are now estranged from Knox and their mother, according to Kelly Clark, a lawyer for the men.
The lawsuit alleges that before the marriage, Knox used his position as a church elder and youth leader to begin abusing them when they were members of a church-chartered Boy Scouts troop for which he was assistant leader. The molestation began during individual sleepovers at Knox’s Sunnyvale apartment, according to the lawsuit.
After the marriage, the sexual assaults allegedly continued at the family’s Sunnyvale home, in Knox’s car on trips to church and Boy Scouts activities, and during Scouts camping trips, according to the lawsuit.
The alleged abuse included fondling, child masturbation and oral copulation, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit was filed about two weeks ago, but under state law the identity of the defendants could not be revealed publicly until a Superior Court judge ruled last week that the plaintiffs had provided enough corroborating evidence to allow disclosure of the defendants.
Two of the brothers now live in Georgia and the third in Colorado. They announced the lawsuit at a news conference at the Civic Center Plaza near the Superior Court courthouse.
They said they filed their lawsuit now because they became aware of the psychological effects of the abuse after they learned last December that Knox and their mother had moved to the same Georgia town where two of them live.
They said that caused them to begin for the first time to connect the psychological and emotional problems they suffered as adults to the alleged childhood abuse.
John Doe 1 said, "When I saw him in a car as he drove by, I literally began shaking."
Allen Ruby, a San Jose lawyer representing the church, said, "Any allegation of childhood abuse is a serious matter," but said, "The church will defend itself."
Ruby said, "The law does not make a church responsible for the conduct of a stepfather toward his children."
Deron Smith, a spokesman for Boy Scouts of America, said, "We’ve not seen the lawsuit and there is not a whole lot we can say at this point."
The lawsuit contends that the Mormon church and the Boy Scouts are liable because Knox was acting as an agent of both. It says the boys told local church officials and the Boy Scouts of the alleged abuse in 1984 and informed a church counselor in 1985 but alleges that the molestation was never reported to law enforcement authorities.
The suit also alleges the church and Boy Scouts were aware that Knox had shown a propensity to abuse boys when he lived in San Diego before moving to Sunnyvale in the early 1970s.
The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of financial compensation. Clark said the men filed a civil lawsuit because the statute of limitations for a criminal prosecution has passed.
The brothers said they are seeking to hold the institutions accountable and to prevent molestation of other children.
John Doe 2 said, "I stand here today for children who will lay their head on their pillows tonight, shedding tears, knowing they will wake up to face their abusers again and again. If I can save just one child from childhood sexual abuse, I will have succeeded."
The lawsuit alleges that John Doe 1 was sexually abused from 1977 to 1982, John Doe 2 from 1977 to 1986 and John Doe 3 from 1977 to 1987.
It says that a high school friend who was a fellow Mormon and Scout member told John Doe 2 in 1983 that he had allegedly been abused by Knox.
The brothers said that Knox and their mother operated a now-defunct day care center at their home in Sunnyvale, known as Little Angel Day Care and Creative Play, for about 15 years, including during years when brothers were allegedly abused.
Clark said the lawsuit was filed in San Francisco because state law allows lawsuits to be filed in any county in which the defendants due business.