PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – A jury is deliberating whether the Boy Scouts of America should pay for allowing a man to remain active in Scouting after he confessed to the Mormon bishop supervising his troop that he had sexually abused 17 boys. In a dramatic plea for damages, the plaintiff lawyer asked the jury, “How do you put a value on a scarred soul, a dirty dollar value on a scarred inner face?”
The case has drawn national attention because the jury will be allowed to review some 2,900 “Ineligible Volunteer” files, in which the Scouts recorded suspected abuse by Scoutmasters and Scouts from 1964 to 1984.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints settled with the plaintiff, whom Timur Dykes admitted molesting 25 years ago. The case before the jury accuses the Scouts’ national organization and its local Cascade Pacific Council of negligence. The Mormon church sponsored Dykes’ Troop 719.
U.S. District Judge John Wittmayer’s fifth-floor courtroom was alternately lit by brilliant sunshine and cast into darkness by passing clouds as the closing arguments ranged from measured statements to angry denunciations. The plaintiff’s attorney Kelly Clark accused the Scouts’ lawyers of trying to blame the victim, his parents and the Mormon church.
“What is defense in this case?” Clark asked the jury. “It’s the same defense that any clever criminal lawyer uses to defend a pedophile. First deny the abuse … then say it was someone else. Now they have done what they all do: blame the victim.”
Two weeks before trial, Dykes admitted that he had abused Clark’s client. During the trial, the Scouts’ attorneys claimed that the Scouts were not negligent because the Mormon church is a “chartering organization” over which the local and national Scouting organizations have no direct control.
In his closing argument, the attorney for the Cascade Pacific Council, Paul Xochihua, asked the jury to question the motivation of the plaintiff. He played an edited video of the plaintiff’s deposition, in which he said that he became a plaintiff after he was contacted by Clark’s office, and that until 2007 he had never thought much about the impact of the abuse on his life.
The Boy Scouts began collecting data early on and by 1925 had thousands of reported episodes of child abuse. In the 1930s, the files were expanded to include suspicious political activity, as the Boy Scouts tried to hunt down communists in its troops.
The plaintiff’s attorneys argued that the Ineligible Volunteer, or IV files gave the Boy Scouts of America specialized knowledge about the extent and pattern of abuse, and it should have developed training programs to spot and deal with sexual abuse. The organization’s failure to do so exposed children to foreseeable harm, the attorneys said.
The Boy Scouts claimed that Dykes was banned from scouting after he confessed to molesting 17 boys in 1983. But the plaintiff’s attorneys said that no report on the ban was entered in the BSA files until 1984, and during the intervening time, Dykes molested the plaintiff.
They said that Troop 719 leaders contacted the parents of only some of the children with whom Dykes was in contact – but not the plaintiff’s parents.
Boy Scouts of America attorney Charles Smith defended the secrecy with which the Dykes case was treated. He asked the jury to imagine the bishop standing up some Sunday and announcing that Dykes had confessed to molesting children in his troop.
“Everyone would know in that congregation who was in that Scout troop. How do you think those boys would have felt going to school the next day?” Smith asked.
Smith said the BSA would “damned” for privacy violations if it released the names of suspected abusers and victims, and “damned” if it did not, because it would be accused shielding the crimes of abusers.
Smith told the jury that the purpose of their files was to keep pedophiles out of the Scouts, not to protect the image of the organization by hiding the extent of the sexual abuses.
While the attorneys fulminated, soothed and cajoled, the plaintiff, a small-framed man with dark hair, sat silently at a table with his attorneys, two of whom, he told a psychologist, where the only men he trusted beside his father and brothers.
His family sat quietly in the gallery listening as Clark asked the jury to consider the damage the plaintiff had suffered as the result of Dykes’ abuse: a plunge into drug and alcohol abuse, loss of self-esteem, feelings of emasculation and guilt.
“How do you put a value on a scarred soul, a dirty dollar value on a scarred inner face?” Clark asked.
At that point the plaintiff’s sister burst into tears and fled the courtroom.
Originally, the plaintiff asked for $4 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages. After the BSA complied with Judge Wittmayer’s order to produce its Ineligible Volunteer files, and Clark’s staff reviewed the evidence, Clark asked, and Judge Wittmayer allowed the plaintiff to ask for more than $20 million in punitive damages.
Under Oregon law, 60 percent of any punitive award will go to a state-administered victims’ crime fund.
In a nod to headlines, Clark urged the jury to be brave and to remember that “the Catholic Church is a much safer place for children than it was 20 years ago, and not because the bishops caught the Holy Spirit, but because they were sued again and again and again.”
When the arguments concluded, Judge Wittmayer sent the jury home for the night. Deliberations began Friday morning.