A judge overseeing a lawsuit brought by the family of a California boy molested by his troop leader in 2007 has ordered the Boy Scouts of America to hand over confidential files detailing allegations of sexual abuse by Scout leaders around the nation.
The Associated Press reports on an LA TImes story that the Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge ruled that the Scouts must turn over the last 20 years' worth of records by Feb. 24, with victims' names removed. The files will not be made public.
Known as "ineligible volunteer files," the documents have been maintained since the 1920s and are intended to keep suspected molesters and others accused of misconduct out of Scouting. Scouts officials have resisted releasing them and won't discuss their contents, citing the privacy rights of victims and the fact that many files are based on unproven allegations. Other lawyers in other cases have occasionally succeeded in persuading court to order the Scouts to produce the files. I have personally been involved in litigation against the Scouts where the "ineligible volunteer files" were a contentious issue, and we were able to obtain some Massachusetts-related files from a confidential source.
Scouts officials generally deny that the files have been used to conceal sexual abuse.
"These files exist solely to keep out individuals whose actions are inconsistent with the standards of Scouting, and Scouts are safer because of them," Deron Smith, public relations director of Boy Scouts of America, told the Los Angeles Times.
The Santa Barbara case is considered significant because it seeks to unlock files that have never been turned over by the Scouts, including all since 2005. It also alleges wrongdoing that took place relatively recently, even as the Scouts have stepped up protective efforts.
The trial is scheduled for April, nearly five years after the boy, then 13, was molested by volunteer troop leader Al Stein at a Boy Scouts Christmas tree sale in Goleta. Stein pleaded no contest to felony child endangerment in 2009. He was sentenced to two years in prison but was paroled early and is living in a Salinas motel with other sex offenders, his attorney Steven Balash told the newspaper.
The victim's name has not been released. His mother claims that David Tate, then the Los Padres Council Scout executive, asked her not to call police after she reported her son's claim of abuse.
"He said that wasn't necessary, because the Scouts do their own internal investigation," said the woman, whose name the LA Times withheld to protect her son's identity. "I thought that was really weird... I thought it was really important to call the sheriff right away."
The lawsuit contends the Scouts knew or should have known that Stein had put the boy at risk and cites Tate's reluctance to call police as evidence of an effort to conceal widespread sexual abuse.
Tate, now a top Scouts official in New York, declined to comment to the LA Times.
The boy's lawyers contend the files will expose the Scouts' "culture of hidden sexual abuse" and its failure to warn boys, their parents and others about pedophiles in the ranks of one of the nation's oldest youth organizations. "They have created these ticking time bombs who are walking through society, and nobody knows their identities except the Scouts," said Timothy Hale.
Some of the estimated 5,000 files have surfaced in recent years as a result of lawsuits by former Scouts accusing the organization of failing to exclude known pedophiles, detect abuses and report offenders to police, and allowing predators to remain at large.