By Aimee Green
September 1, 2010
A settlement with six men molested by a former Portland Boy Scout leader is the latest in a series of new steps by the 100-year-old national youth organization to acknowledge its dark past and adopt safeguards to better protect boys from sexual abuse.
The settlement, announced Wednesday, prevents the men from talking about how much money each received to compensate them for abuse in the 1980s. But the amount likely reaches into the multiple millions of dollars, considering the Boy Scouts of America also will pay the state $2.25 million as part of the agreement.
Kelly Clark, an attorney for the men, said he hoped the settlement makes the Boy Scouts safer for children, just as widespread sexual-abuse litigation against the Catholic Church made the church safer.
"That’s not primarily because the bishops got the Holy Spirit, that’s because the bishops got sued," Clark said.
Clark and attorney Paul Mones won a more than $19 million jury verdict against the Boy Scouts of America in April for failing to protect 38-year-old Kerry Lewis from Timur Dykes — an assistant Scoutmaster and convicted pedophile who had admitted to molesting 17 boys.
The verdict helped move along the settlement negotiations, the attorneys said. Lewis joined the others to avoid what was expected to be a lengthy appeal of the jury’s verdict in his case, believed to be the largest award in the country for a sexual abuse victim.
Lewis and the other five men were all members of the same troop and victims of Dykes. The men, now in their 30s and early 40s, claimed that Scouting executives knew they had a decades-long problem of pedophiles volunteering, yet failed to warn parents or children.
The Boy Scouts are now responding with better policies, the attorneys said.
Five weeks after the trial, the Texas-based organization made youth-protection training mandatory for all registered volunteers.
Three months after the trial, the organization’s first ever youth-protection director began work. Mike Johnson, a former child-sexual abuse investigator for the police department in Plano, Texas, is considered a "world-renowned expert," said Deron Smith, a spokesman for the Boy Scouts.
"I’m glad the community and the jury heard us and believed us," said Lewis, who agreed to be identified in news stories during the trial and now lives in Klamath Falls. "And I’m glad other children are going to have more protection than I did. It makes it all worthwhile."
Lewis said the Scouts have never directly said they were sorry. But Smith, the Scouts spokesman, said a statement he e-mailed to media Wednesday contained an apology.
"We extend our sympathies to the victims and are pleased to have reached a settlement which will both prevent these men from reliving their experiences during a trial and allow BSA to focus even more intently on the continued enhancement of our youth protection program," the statement read.
It also stated that "youth safety is the number one priority of the Boy Scouts of America, and we are deeply saddened by the events in these cases."
Though no one will say how much the settlement is worth, the payment to the state indicates it’s high. Under Oregon law, the state gets 60 percent of all punitive-damage awards, and it had $11.1 million coming under April’s verdict. So lawyers for both sides allowed the state to negotiate a settlement.
Clark cautioned people not to speculate about the overall amount based on the state figure. "You can’t do the math, it’s not even close," Clark said.
Key to Lewis’ case were so-called red-flag files that the Boy Scouts have fought to keep out of the public eye, but that Multnomah County Circuit Judge John Wittmayer allowed to be used during the trial. The files amounted to 20,000 pages of information collected by Boy Scout executives from 1965 to 1985 on 1,247 volunteers who were suspected of molesting boys or other inappropriate behavior.
Lewis’ attorneys estimated that the files encompassed 6,000 to 18,000 children who had been abused over 20 years. That’s a fraction — maybe 10 to 20 percent — of the true number of victims because most sexual abuse isn’t reported, Mones said. Most victims, he said, don’t get the resolution his six clients got from the settlement.
"And that’s a tragedy," Mones said.
Clark said he has 14 other clients who are suing the Boy Scouts for sexual abuse in Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho and Florida.