Sexual abuse lawsuit against Boy Scouts, LDS church expands

kterhune@idahostatesman.comSeptember 17, 2013 

Four more former Boy Scouts have joined a lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, alleging that both organizations covered up sexual abuse and allowed known pedophiles to remain in leadership positions.

Both organizations have responded to the allegations in federal court, denying that any wrongdoing or responsibility falls on them.

The lawsuit, filed in June, claims Boy Scout leaders in Idaho sexually abused the plaintiffs in various incidents in the 1970s and '80s. The plaintiffs seek monetary damages, the amount of which would be determined by a jury, said Boise attorney Andrew Chasan, one of the lawyers representing the men.

The case is still in its early stages and a scheduling hearing is set for Oct. 9.

Seven of the plaintiffs are anonymous, identified only as John Does 1-7. The eighth, John Elliott, has attached his name to the lawsuit and on Monday, spoke to Boise-area media about the abuse he said he suffered 36 years ago.

“My hope is that others, because I do believe there are probably others who are living with this pain to this day, will have the courage to come forward also,” he said, explaining the difficult decision to tell his story publicly.

Elliott and four of the other plaintiffs say they were abused by former Boy Scout leader Jim Schmidt while members of a troop sponsored by the LDS church. Convicted of sex crimes against children in Idaho in 1983 and in Maryland in 1996, Schmidt is now a registered sex offender living in Maryland. He is not a defendant in the lawsuit, and could not be reached for comment this week. 

Elliott joined the organization as a Cub Scout. He was 12 in 1977 when his troop took a trip to Camp Morrison in McCall.

He said the Scout leader tricked him into spending the night in his tent after Elliott was stung multiple times by yellow jackets during a hike.

“[Schmidt said] the bees would attack me at night, they would smell the venom in my bloodstream and come after me,” he said.

Elliott agreed to sleep in the leader’s tent, he said, as long as several of his friends could spend the night with him. But once the Scouts settled in for the night, Schmidt told them he could hear a wolverine prowling outside the tent, terrifying the children. Several boys were so afraid they began to cry, Elliott said. That, Elliott said, is when Schmidt molested him and the other boys.

When the boys returned from camp, Elliott told his mother what had happened and quit the Boy Scouts for good.

Officials reassured Elliott and his mother that they would handle the matter, he said.

The pair believed that meant Schmidt would be kicked out of the Boy Scouts. But two years later, Elliott saw Schmidt again, leading a group of young Cub Scouts on a trip to Zoo Boise.

“I became very angry seeing he was still involved in Scouts after what he did,” Elliott said. The then-14-year-old poured a drink on Schmidt and took off running. Later, he kicked Schmidt when he believed he saw Schmidt fondling a boy in public.

Again, Elliott and his mother reported the incident to the Boy Scouts, writing letters to the group’s national headquarters. But the organization did not bar Schmidt from leading Scouts at that time, Elliott said.

Two more people who say they were sexually abused as Boy Scouts will be added to the case soon, bringing the number of plaintiffs to 10, Chasan said.

In an answer to the suit filed Aug. 30, the LDS church denies wrongdoing. Its response either categorically denies or asserts that there is not enough information to prove that any of the eight plaintiffs, including Elliott, was abused.

The Boy Scouts of America does the same in its answer, filed Sept. 9. The group admitted that Schmidt and other men accused of being pedophiles volunteered with the Scouts, but denied responsibility for the alleged abuse. And it denies that the plaintiffs, including Elliott, were sexually abused.

Both organizations also argue that any abuse happened “outside the scope and course” of Schmidt and other leaders’ official duties, and that the statute of limitations has already passed, among other defenses. 

The Boy Scouts of America did not reply to requests for comment this week following Elliott's statements. In a statement to the Statesman in June, spokesman Deron Smith says the organization “deeply regret[s] that there have been times when Scouts were abused” and pointed out the advances the group has made in requiring background checks, training and other policies to protect Scouts.

The LDS Church declined to comment further on the suit, but reissued a statement it sent out after the lawsuit was filed. Spokesman Brian Whitlock said the church “has zero tolerance for abuse of any kind, and works diligently to prevent abuse and provide support and assistance to victims.”

Elliott stopped short Monday of saying parents should not allow their son to be a Boy Scout, but urged parents to pay close attention and demand accountability from leaders.

“They need to be cautious and they need to talk to their children," he said. “They need to be more involved making sure certain boundaries are in place.”

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