(from the Oregonian)
May 22nd, 2010
By LES ZAITZ and NICOLE DUNGCA
When a parent heard that William E. Tobiassen, a longtime Scout leader in Corvallis, was sexually abusing one of his troop members, she alerted Scout officials.
For two more years, Tobiassen, an insurance agent with sons of his own, abused the boy.
The abuse was exposed only when the teenager told a counselor and then police what had happened. Even then, internal memos show, the Scouts executive overseeing Tobiassen didn’t want to ban him from Scouting until there were formal charges.
The episode from 1984 wasn’t the only instance when Oregon Scout leaders failed to act on trouble in their ranks.
Secret files obtained by The Oregonian from 1971 to 1991 contain no record that Scout leaders alerted authorities to adults suspected of child abuse in at least 11 instances in Oregon.
In all, 46 people were booted from Scouting in Oregon in those years, most based on police or media reports of suspected or proven cases of child molestation.
Scout leaders insist they take appropriate measures to protect children.
A Portland jury recently concluded otherwise.
In that case, jurors considered 1,000 confidential Scout files from 1965 to 1985 to judge the Scouts’ liability. Only once before in the country has a jury seen such files, but never before in the volume or unrestricted form provided Portland jurors. The jury subsequently awarded Kerry Lewis $18.5 million to punish the Scouts for abuse he suffered at the hands of a Scout leader.
But the award also was meant to jolt the Scouts.
“We were trying to send a message,” said Margaret Ormsbee, one of the jurors. “It seemed to most of us they were putting their PR and reputation above children’s safety.”
The Portland case focused a white hot light on Boy Scout practices. Critics say the Scouting organization, headquartered in Texas, has never adequately responded to sex abuse within its ranks as the Catholic church finally has now done.
Nearly 25 years ago, the Scouts designed a program they said would protect youth from sex abuse, but it has been largely voluntary for the 1.2 million men and women guiding Scouts across the country. The Scouts have no record of who has taken the training. They haven’t assessed how widely used it is or whether it works.
Scouts leaders in Texas headquarters won’t discuss their program or Scout child abuse. Historically, they have talked only grudgingly when they had to – in court or through lawyers.
The Scouts appeared ready to break their silence, scheduling an interview with The Oregonian and seeking written questions they promised to answer. One day before the interview, the Scouts canceled out on both.
Instead, they provided a two-page description of their abuse-prevention program and a chronology of their efforts.
Scout executives in Oregon were little more forthcoming after getting written questions asking how they protect Oregon Scouts from sexual abuse. The largest unit, based in Portland, responded with a one-page letter, the Eugene unit declined comment, and the Medford unit didn’t answer at all.
“We make the Boy Scouts of America’s youth protection training programs for youth, parents and volunteers readily available, and we strongly support participation in such programs,” wrote Matthew Devore, Scout executive at the Cascade Pacific Council. The council serves 32,471 boys.
Ormsbee said jurors were troubled the Scouts didn’t concede the seriousness of their record of child abuse stretching back nearly a century. “We all thought it was absolutely incomprehensible that the Scouts didn’t realize this was a problem,” Ormsbee said.
Ormsbee said she had nightmares for weeks after reading “about awful things that happened over and over and over” in the Scout files.
Those “awful things” are documented in “ineligible volunteer files” created at Texas headquarters and kept in locked storage.
The files typically include notes from local Scout leaders, relying on internal inquiries, police or court records, and even press clippings. Scout leaders have been banned for abusing Scouts, other children from school or church, or their own children.
The master list is meant to keep offenders from returning to Scouting. Local officials never see the files but are advised by headquarters when a particular volunteer can’t be registered as a Scout leader.
But in Oregon, that hasn’t always kept abusers away.
In 1982, Ken J. Drury was convicted in Deschutes County of sexual abuse.
Drury went on to participate in Scouting activities in Lane County.
Four years later, when Eugene-area Scout officials heard rumors of Drury’s criminal past, they wrote national headquarters for direction, noting that Drury “seems to have nothing more to do than travel around attaching himself to Scouting.”
According to the confidential files, national Scout officials prepared to add Drury to the list but advised local Scout leaders that they “would not refuse registration” to Drury until they had more information.
An Oregon State Police officer supplied the necessary details, noting that the 1982 victim was a 16-year-old boy Drury was returning from a Scout outing.
Drury was officially banned from Scouting in November 1986.
He died in 2001.
National leaders in 1986 urged the Portland Scout council to drop cubmaster Carleton “Tim” Coffey “in a kind way” when they learned he had been convicted the year before of sexually abusing a young girl.
When national leaders learned later that Coffey was still in Scouting, they pressed again that he be ushered out. “This individual’s record is such that this could cause serious problems for the Boy Scouts of America should any further legal matters develop,” according to an April 1988 letter from a national official.
The Portland council finally banned Coffey, who died in 1999.
The Oregon files also reveal that Scout leaders didn’t always tell police when they discovered a potential molester.
Under Oregon law, Scout executives aren’t required to report their suspicions to authorities as are teachers, doctors and others. Scout leaders were advised by national headquarters of their legal right to keep such information confidential.
“In the event that your jurisdiction does not require reporting, make sure that the individual making the allegation understands that the local council has no such requirement and does not intend to report the incident to authorities,” said written instructions as read during a deposition of a top Scout executive.
William Tobiassen was one the Scouts spared from reporting to police.
He had been a Scout leader for more than a decade in Corvallis. He was active in politics, helping the local district attorney in a political campaign.
In 1982, Scout executives were told he was abusing a teen in his troop. The parent of another Scout tipped off Scout leaders. She testified later that they “downplayed” her information and said they would take care of it. They didn’t.
Two years later, police did act on the information. Tobiassen was convicted of sex abuse in 1984 and banned from Scouting.
Scouts were also slow to act following a report that assistant Scoutmaster Roy S. Wilson, who slept nude when camping, had straddled a Scout in his tent during a 1985 backpacking trip and insisted on providing a back rub.
The boy’s mother subsequently complained to Scout leaders.
A confidential Scout report drafted several months after the mother’s complaint recounted the boy’s description of how Wilson’s “muscles were very tense and his eyes bulged out.”
Wilson told The Oregonian last week that he was dressed when he gave the back rub and that he didn’t abuse the boy. Still, local officials declined his offer to help with a 1985 summer camp, citing his “past background.”
That may have been a reference to excerpts in his Scout file from a medical report that a worried doctor shared with Scout leaders. The doctor noted that Wilson, who was also a Lutheran minister, had “begun to turn to very young teenagers, 14 and 16 years old, as his main support system” and engaged in activities “there were not healthy for anyone involved.”
Wilson said he participated with three troops at once, without registering as a volunteer. An internal Scout memo said Wilson was told to leave Scouting after the camping incident. But Wilson told The Oregonian he was ejected from just one of the troops and continued to work with the other two until months later, when he was formally banned from Scouting. He was added to the national list in 1987
“It was some time before the council did anything,” Wilson said. “I think they were very sloppy.”
He criticized the organization for ineffective controls.
“People are put on their list proscribing working with Boy Scouts any further without any checking into realities of the situation, and people are taken off the list despite the fact of solid evidence that they are a continuing danger,” Wilson said.
Sixteen years after the back rub episode, police arrested Wilson in a child sex abuse case in Tillamook. He was convicted and is now a registered sex offender.
In 1974, Scout leaders confronted James F. Hogan over reports he had been kissing and hugging boys he oversaw through a troop sponsored by the Portland Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The file recounted one formerly “enthusiastic” Scout’s reaction to a meeting with Hogan. The boy “took off his uniform and threw it and his books into the closet and has not taken them out to this day,” the internal report said.
The file said Hogan had repeated questionable contact with Scouts, but the file contains no record that Scouts reported him to police.
They did ban Hogan from Scouting – but only for a time. In 1981,
The Scouts relented, and restored Hogan as a Scout volunteer. Nine years later, they put him back on the list after he abused two boys he met at the church and pleaded guilty to sodomy.
Hogan told The Oregonian in an email that he didn’t have much memory of how the Scouts handled his case.
“I do take full responsibility for my actions and carry a heavy burden of pain, sorrow and regret both for those young men who have been injured and also for my wife, children and grandchildren who are re-injured each time these things are brought forth,” Hogan wrote.
On Friday, church officials issued a statement about child-protection measures taken in the 30 years since the Hogan case:
“As in society at large, there is today a better recognition of just how manipulative and deceitful perpetrators of abuse can be. That fact, along with a deeper understanding of the impact such abuse can have on victims, has led the Church to establish a 24-hour helpline, to provide extensive training for local leaders on recognizing abuse, to mandate compliance with reporting laws, to provide professional counseling for victims and to adopt stern methods for dealing with perpetrators.”
In Southern Oregon, a high school dean and Scout leader was banned from Scouting for associating with a known sex offender. A local volunteer asked about the Scouts’ procedures in such matters, and a national executive wrote that “no public knowledge is made of any information which we have which would destroy anyone’s reputation.”
Such concern over reputation was standard for the Scouts, according to the national executive who managed registration of volunteers.
“Our philosophy has been that we are not trying in any way to hurt this person’s reputation or their standing in the community. Simply to make certain they are not registered in Scouting,” testified Paul Ernst in a 1986 deposition.
He has since retired, and Scout officials in Texas wouldn’t answer whether that practice continues.
Past behavior wasn’t always detected because the Scouts didn’t start subjecting volunteers to criminal background checks until 2003. In the Oregon case files, word of criminal conduct came either from police or newspaper headlines.
In the 1980s, Oregon State Police Sgt. Ron Jones provided the Boy Scouts in Southern Oregon information he said should be sufficient to ban a Scout leader. Jones, who died in 2003, also was a top Scout executive in Medford.
In 1987, Jones alerted Scouts that Jay D. Mitchell, a Scout leader from Grants Pass, had been accused of sodomy and sex abuse involving children who weren’t Scouts.
Once Mitchell pleaded guilty to four counts of sodomy, Jones urged the Scouts to act. He said Mitchell was a “dangerous offender, which means simply that if he had not been arrested, his activities would be more and more violent.”
The Scouts officially added Mitchell to the blacklist seven months after he was convicted of sexually abusing a child.
Mitchell couldn’t be located for comment.
Tim Kosnoff, a Seattle attorney who has represented abused Scouts, said his clients have never been offered treatment by the Scouts.
“It’s like a failure to administer first aid to a Scout who’s broken his leg,” Kosnoff said.
The Cascade Pacific Council “offers both individual and group counseling when appropriate,” said Devore, the Scout executive. He wouldn’t elaborate.
The national Scouts’ federal tax return for 2008 doesn’t list any expense for counseling or therapy. It did list $9.9 million on public relations, which, Scout officials say, includes internal communications.
The focus on public relations troubles those who believe the Scouts should be accountable for what has happened.
Dr. Eli Newberger, a Massachusetts pediatrician recognized as an expert on child abuse, is one of the few outsiders who have had access to the Scouts’ secret files. He has testified on behalf of Scouting victims, based in part on reviewing files as recent as 2005.
Newberger concluded the Scouts fell “far short” of adequately protecting children.
“Bureaucratic prerogatives may have trumped the interests of children and secrecy hid evidence of a continuing threat to the welfare of children,” Newberger wrote.
FROM THE CONFIDENTIAL FILES
: June 1937
Cubmaster of Pack 406 in Portland, involved with group from Post 812, cubmaster for Unit 3112
When a Portland Cub Scout returned from an overnight stay at cubmaster James Hogan’s house, he told his parents that Hogan had fondled him over his sleeping bag, according to a 1974 letter a local Scout official sent to a Scout executive.
Hogan wrote an apologetic letter to the Boy Scouts that same year, but he was placed on the national organization’s blacklist in June 1974. He was rejected when he tried to re-register in 1978.
Then, in 1981, Hogan found a way back in. After a counselor affiliated with the Mormon Church insisted that Hogan’s physicality had been misinterpreted, the Scouts registered Hogan on a probationary basis, again as cubmaster.
In 1989, Hogan pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a juvenile relative and two boys he met through his position as a janitor of the church. Those two victims filed a civil suit against the church, which was settled.
As recently as 2008, another Portland man came forward with a lawsuit alleging Hogan sexually abused him while employed by the church. The case was settled for undisclosed terms.
Where is he now?
January 17, 1934
Scout Commissioner, 1986 Scouter of the Year for Eastern Oregon District
:On the outside, Franklin Mathias seemed an exemplary Scout leader.
But an emotional Mathias abruptly resigned from the organization in June 1987, according to official Scout documents. Just months later, he was arrested on sexual abuse charges involving at least five young boys. News reports said some of the abuse allegedly took place on Boy Scout outings.
In 1988, he was convicted of one count of first-degree sexual abuse and three counts of second-degree sexual abuse.
Letters show Scout leaders immediately sensed the legal implications.
“So far, we are not involved and do not have any lawsuits pending against us,” wrote one scout executive. “For the time being, I guess we wait and keep our fingers crossed.”
Where is he now?
Gerald Wayne Gunter
January 27, 1949
Involved with Troop Number 491 in Jackson County, volunteer for Ashland’s Troop 112
In the summer of 1985, the National Office received word of a Scout’s mother who had accused Gunter of sexually abusing her son.
In September, Gunter pleaded guilty to second-degree sexual abuse charges and was sentenced to five years probation.
In July 1985, Kathryn Janssen, a longtime attorney for the Scouts, wrote the National Office about a civil suit filed on behalf of the boy against Gunter and the Scouts. She noted “warning signs of several other potential suits.”
Gunter’s case was settled two years later. Terms were not disclosed.
Where is he now?