In early 1977, allegations about an assistant scoutmaster having sex with boys rocked the old St. Joseph’s Church in Haverhill, then home for Boy Scout Troop 27.
Stories grew rampant about the 27-year-old scout leader inviting boys to stay overnight at his home, where indecent exposure and fondling were common. One boy accused the troop leader of performing “an unnatural act” on him.
A father who was on the troop committee consulted with a lawyer and the police for assistance after reporting that his son was a victim of sexual abuse by an adult leader “who should not be allowed to stay in scouting.”
But despite the controversy, police never prosecuted the assistant scoutmaster for the alleged sexual crimes. Neither he nor the Boy Scouts were named as defendants in any lawsuits.
When confronted by the chairman of the troop committee, the man refused to meet with the committee to discuss the allegations, resigned abruptly and moved out of the city within a month.
“It was decided by the Troop Committee, with the support of the parents of the boys that were involved, and the Pastor of the Church that no legal action take place,” the troop committee member wrote in a letter to the national office of the Boy Scouts of America more than a year later.
“Lone Tree Council was advised of the problem from the beginning but was asked to stay out because the Committee felt it was their problem. The Committee did ask and continues to ask the Lone Tree Council and the Boy Scouts of America to be aware of these facts,” he wrote.
Though never criminally charged, the former Haverhill scout leader was barred from further participation in scouting. The Boy Scouts denied his application to be a scoutmaster in Rochester, N.Y., four years later because his name had been placed in scouting’s ineligible volunteer files – essentially a confidential blacklist created more than 80 years ago to protect scouts from known or suspected abusers.
Documents about the ex-assistant scoutmaster from Haverhill Troop 27 finally became public last Thursday as part of 14,500 pages of the so-called “perversion files” released by the scouts under an order of the Oregon Supreme Court. He is one of some 1,200 alleged child molesters throughout the nation who were privately banned from scouting for complaints of abuse over a 20-year period from 1965 to 1985.
The Eagle-Tribune has not identified the former scout leader because he was never criminally charged.
Two former scout leaders from southern New Hampshire are also named with documents detailing their cases in the voluminous filings posted by attorney Kelly Clark of the Portland, Ore., law firm O’Donnell Clark & Crew LLP on his website (kellyclarkattorney.com):
Robert F. Wood, a former Plaistow Boy Scout troop leader who was arrested in 1981 for sexually assaulting several scouts. A Plaistow District Court justice later dismissed all charges because the statute of limitations for prosecuting him had expired. The prosecution had failed to bring charges within a year of the alleged crimes involving two minor boys, ages 9 and 12.
Alfred F. Cote, a former leader of a Boy Scout troop affiliated with the Derry Ward of the Church of Latter Day Saints. He was convicted in 1986 of raping a 12-year-old Londonderry boy who was a member of the troop.
Despite being placed in the ineligible volunteer files in 1984, court documents released last week show that Cote tried to register as an adult scout leader in Indiana in 1987. That came to light after his arrest in Illinois on new charges of sexually assaulting young boys. He tried to conceal his scouting past by altering his name and changing his birth date in applications he filed for scouting positions in other states.
During a news conference last week when he announced his posting of the files, attorney Clark was critical of the Boy Scouts’ aggressive legal efforts to keep the abuse files private.
“You do not keep secrets hidden about dangers to children,” Clark said. His law firm won a lawsuit over the Boy Scouts in 2010, representing a plaintiff who was molested by an assistant scoutmaster in the 1980s. A jury got to see the files in court case, and the Oregon Supreme Court later ruled they should be made public.
The files released last week contain details on proven child molesters as well as unsubstantiated allegations.
But many of the documents also reveal how police weren’t told about the allegations, and in other instances that scout leaders managed to avoid prosecution because police or prosecutors weren’t interested in doing anything.
“It’s more evidence that institutions which should be protecting children are too busy trying to make money or protecting their image to worry about protecting children,” said Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who specializes in representing victims in sexual abuse cases.
“When it comes to protecting children, it’s clear that Penn State, the Boston Red Sox and the Boy Scouts of America need to be supervised,” Garabedian said.
Kevin Nichols, scout executive of the Haverhill-based Yankee Clipper Council – which covers 52 communities in Northeastern Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire, said the public needs to consider the ineligible volunteer files in their proper context.
“The Files released are at least 30 years old and the BSA has since made significant improvements in its youth protection policies and procedures,” Nichols said.
“Nothing is more important than the safety of our Scouts. The BSA’s Youth Protection policies have consistently evolved along with increased knowledge and best practices, and we are committed to ongoing enhancement,” he said.
Nichols doesn’t forsee the scouting movement losing its popularity or having its overall public image hurt because of the “perversion files.”
“We fully expect scouting to thrive as one of America’s leading youth organizations that has learned valuable lessons from this tragedy,” Nichols said.
“Our goal continues to be to make scouting a rich and rewarding experience for young people throughout the country,” he said.
Lawrence City Attorney Charles Boddy, a longtime adult leader in the Yankee Clipper Council, said there’s ample evidence the confidential files kept on scout leaders who were banned served their purpose.
He cited the Haverhill case as an example of the system working.
“The reason the files were kept in the first place were to prevent recidivists from abusing scouts in one location and relocating across the country and rejoining scouting and hurting children again,” Boddy said.
“That (Haverhill case) shows that in at least that instance, the safeguards were successful. They did what they were supposed to do. This individual was flagged and was prohibited from further participation in scouting,” he said.
“The Boy Scouts of America have been fighting pedophilia for years and have been getting better at it. Today, it’s a different world, and the reason is different: we have gotten better over time of isolating these folks and preventing them from continuing their abuse. The standards of today far exceed the standards of 30 or 40 years ago,” he said.
For one thing, all adults who seek employment or volunteer jobs in scouting are subject to extensive criminal background checks. They must also complete a lengthy application that requires references, social security numbers and other personal information.
There are national databases in place that enable Boy Scout councils to track the movement of leaders with questionable backgrounds. Volunteers receive youth protection training programs that are offered online. they learn what constitutes appropriate interaction between adults and youth.
“If you are not registered, you are not even allowed to come into conduct with the youth,” Boddy said.
“And no adult leader can be alone with a youth member unless there is another adult member present,” he said.