A Colorado man is alleging he was sexually abused 20 years ago by an assistant scoutmaster while on camping trips across Arkansas and New Mexico, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Fort Smith.
That accused ex-scoutmaster was later convicted of unrelated child pornography charges.
The plaintiff in the case, who grew up in the Fayetteville area, is suing the Boy Scouts of America and the Westark Area Council, which provides Scout programs across Northwest Arkansas.
In a statement released Tuesday, the Boy Scouts of America stated that it was "disgusted" by the allegations described in the lawsuit and that such behavior runs "counter to everything" for which the organization stands.
The plaintiff, now 35, alleges that an assistant scoutmaster took nude photos of him, molested him and forced him to perform sex acts on him while he was 15 and 16 years old. The abuse, according to the lawsuit, occurred at campgrounds near Harrison and Jasper, as well as in Cimarron, N.M.
"He got to the point where he felt this was the right thing to do," said Joshua Gillispie, a North Little Rock attorney who is representing the plaintiff. "He has no desire to be front and center on any of this, but he understands the importance of what he's doing."
Gillispie said his client also filed a claim in a bankruptcy case involving the Boy Scouts. In February, the organization filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in an effort, it said, to create a trust that would provide compensation to victims of sexual abuse.
According to Abused in Scouting, an organization that was set up to represent such abuse victims, the total number of those who have filed claims has exceeded 15,000. Abused in Scouting is representing 9,000 of them, organization spokeswoman Julianna Evans said.
Records show that the abuser, now 71, named in the Fort Smith lawsuit was arrested in March 2013 by the Washington County sheriff's office on various counts related to possession and distribution of child pornography. He was later convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He is still serving that sentence, according to the Arkansas Department of Corrections.
Because he was not charged criminally in the Boy Scout case and this lawsuit has not been decided, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is not publishing the name of the accused man or the name of the plaintiff.
Gillispie said he represents about 20 clients with Arkansas ties who allege that they were abused by Scout leaders while they were youths in the program.
In 2012, an Oregon court ordered the release of 1,200 pages of documents that disclosed how the Boy Scouts had handled allegations of sexual abuse within its ranks dating back to World War II. The documents, commonly referred to as the "perversion files," revealed that Scout leaders who were accused of sexual molestation were not reported to law enforcement. Instead, they were reassigned to other areas while parents and children were kept in the dark about their actions, Gillispie said.
The Los Angeles Times published a database in 2013 that contained the information in those 1,200 pages of court documents. A search of that database shows 24 separate abuse cases in Arkansas that occurred from 1969 to 2003.
The pages that were released made up only a portion of the perversion files, Gillispie said, so the total number of Arkansas cases is estimated to be much greater.
The Fort Smith lawsuit, like the others Gillispie has filed on behalf of his other clients, is expected to be stayed until a resolution is reached in the bankruptcy case, which was filed in a federal court in Delaware.
The deadline to file a claim in the bankruptcy case is Nov. 16.
Tuesday's response from the Boy Scouts related to the Fort Smith lawsuit stated that the organization was unaware of the scoutmaster's behavior until a separate allegation came to light in 2012, at which time law enforcement officials was contacted.
"[We] took immediate action then to prohibit him from any future participation in our programs," the statement read. The accused scoutmaster was arrested a year later. Court documents don't disclose any information about the victims, including whether they were involved with the Boy Scouts.
"First and foremost, we care deeply about all victims of child abuse and sincerely apologize to [the plaintiff], as well as anyone who was harmed during their time in Scouting," the Boy Scouts statement continued. "We are outraged that there have been times when individuals took advantage of our programs to abuse innocent children. We believe victims. We support them and we encourage them to come forward."
A phone message left with Chris Daughtrey, the Scout executive at Westark, wasn't returned Tuesday.
Gillispie pointed out that local councils, like Westark, are hoping to come out of the bankruptcy case "with the same protections" as the national organization. He added that regional councils are "riding on the coattails" of the Boy Scouts of America "without having to pony up their own assets."
These local councils, Gillispie said, "are equally or more to blame" for the thousands of cases of abuse.
It remains to be seen what will come out of the bankruptcy mediation. If the claimants aren't satisfied with the settlement, those lawsuits that remain in a holding pattern could be moved forward, attorneys have said.
"It's possible that we could have a jury trial in Arkansas as early as next year," Gillispie said.
The Boy Scouts of America is reported to have assets north of $1.4 billion, according to national news outlets that cited tax filing documents.
Gillispie noted that the Boy Scouts filed for bankruptcy shortly before the covid-19 pandemic, so news coverage about it was limited.
"We know they've had knowledge for years that this is a problem," Gillispie said. "They've known child abusers were infiltrating their ranks because of the opportunity to be close to children. ... It filed for bankruptcy because there was so much sexual abuse. It generated so many lawsuits that it couldn't survive unless it filed for bankruptcy," he said.