Abuse lawsuit names Mormons, Boy Scouts
November 17, 2009
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – The Mormon church and Boy Scouts of America were named as defendants in lawsuits Monday claiming childhood sexual abuse by youth leaders decades ago.
Alleged victims filed suits against both organizations in San Francisco and Seattle, and against the church alone in Portland, Ore.
The plaintiffs are all represented by Portland attorney Kelly Clark, who has brought similar suits against the church and the Boy Scouts in the past.
In the suit filed in San Francisco Superior Court, three brothers claim the church ignored their complaints about being molested by their Silicon Valley Boy Scout and Mormon youth leader in the 1970s and 1980s.
“These are men who believe in the best of these institutions and believe that this kind of lawsuit can help improve these institutions and prevent child abuse,” Clark said. “This is not a lawsuit they brought lightly, but it is one they intend to see through.”
The plaintiffs, identified only as John Does, claim they were molested hundreds of times by 65-year-old William Eugene Knox, who married their mother while the abuse was taking place in Sunnyvale, Calif.
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A law firm in Canton, Ga., contacted by The Associated Press said it was no longer representing Knox, a Georgia resident. His phone number could not be located.
Clark said the suit was filed weeks ago, but the defendants were only named Monday after a San Francisco judge certified evidence allowing them to be identified publicly. He said a jury would determine the specific amount of any possible damages.
One of the plaintiffs was still a devout member of the church, and two have served as scoutmasters. Clark said one was a former FBI agent.
San Jose attorney Allen Ruby, representing the church in Northern California, said he was not aware of a case in which courts have found a church liable for abuse committed by a family member.
“The allegations in this case are the plaintiffs were abused by their stepfather,” Ruby said. The church will defend itself against the suit, he said.
Kent Downing, chief executive of the Boy Scouts’ Pacific Skyline Council, said he could not comment because he had not seen the lawsuit.
In the Seattle case, a man now in his early 40s claims he and other boys were abused in the late 1970s by Dustin Hall, an assistant scoutmaster chosen by the church’s Shelton Ward near Olympia.
The plaintiff said in a statement released through his lawyer that the abuse – and his failure to protect the others – haunts him.
Hall could not immediately be reached for comment. It was not clear if he still lives in the area or whether he has an attorney. The Pacific Harbors Council of the Boy Scouts did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Chuck Gordon, a Seattle-based lawyer for the church, said it would investigate the complaint and act accordingly.
“While we do sympathize with all victims of abuse, the church will defend itself against any accusation it deems to be false,” Gordon said.
The lawsuit filed in Portland on behalf of a man who is now 46 claims a Mormon youth leader abused him between 1974 and 1977. The suit claims the abuse was reported to a church bishop but never communicated to law enforcement.
A lawyer for the church, Steve English, said the church “absolutely and unequivocally” condemns sex abuse and will investigate.
The lawsuit identified the youth leader as Michael Simms and seeks nearly $5 million in damages. Efforts to locate Simms were not successful.
Clark said the plaintiffs were filing civil lawsuits in part because the statute of limitations for bringing criminal charges had expired.
Associated Press Writers Gene Johnson in Seattle, William McCall in Portland, Ore., and Jennifer Dobner in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.