April 8, 2010 -- Closing arguments begin today in a trial that could be a landmark case against the Boy Scouts of America, which is accused of covering up alleged sexual abuse of several of its Boy Scouts for years.
In a civil suit filed last month in Portland, Ore., six plaintiffs allege that the Boy Scouts of America allowed convicted child sex-offender Timur Dykes to continue to participate and lead troop activities, including sleepovers at his home with the scouts, despite complaints from parents.
The $29 million lawsuit focuses on a now 37-year-old Portland man, unnamed in the filings, who claims he was abused as a boy by Dykes while the Boy Scouts of America and the Cascade Pacific Council in Oregon, his specific Scout branch, did nothing. Dykes, who admitted the abuse, was convicted, imprisoned and is out on parole until 2013.
Furthering the plaintiffs case against the organization is admission into the trial of more than a 1,000 pages of so-called perversion files, which are confidential documents kept by the Boy Scouts of America regarding people who have been kicked out of scouting for a variety of reasons, including sex the abuse of scouts.
"If the plaintiffs win this case, it would be the first major victory for a plaintiff in a Scout trial in decades," said Patrick Boyle, the author of "Scout's Honor: Sexual Abuse in America's Most Trusted Institution" and a researcher of scout abuse for more than 20 years.
The perversion files have only been used once before in a trial against the organization, and in that instance the jury ruled against the Boy Scouts of America, which had to pay damages, Boyle said.
"The Boy Scouts of America haven't lost a big suit in a long time, they have been fairly successful in keeping the national corporation insulated from blame," said Boyle, who is also the current editor of Youth Today. "But these perversion files are an ugly thing and are the skeleton in their closet."
Dawn Krantz-Watts, an expert in sex-abuse litigation for almost 20 years, said that she too believes the case has the potential to become one of the "biggest cases of its kind.'
"If the Boy Scouts of America are held accountable because of the sex abuse this young man says he had to endure as a child, that's just huge," she said. "It won't bring down the Boy Scouts, but it will cause them to take a look at their practices that they've held and change."
Lawsuit Alleges Boy Scouts of America Turned Blind Eye to Sex Abuse
From 1979 to 1985, according to the documents, Dykes "used the trust and faith placed in him by Scouts" and "severely abused, fondled or sodomized" the six plaintiffs.
They allege that Dykes, after a complaint by a young boy's mother and his own admission of abusing "several boys," including some of the plaintiffs in the suit, was removed from his post as Scoutmaster but was still allowed to volunteer at and attend Scout meetings.
Law enforcement also investigated the allegations, arresting and then placing Dykes on probation that prohibited him from having contact with children and requiring him to complete mental health counseling, which he never did, according to the court documents. Despite this, the court documents allege, the Boy Scouts of America never disclosed to the parents that Dykes was a "sexual danger to boys."
Problems with Dykes, now 53, persisted, according to court documents, when in 1985 he was arrested and convicted of two counts of sexual abuse of other boys. Most of them were Scouts. But according to court documents, Dykes was released in 1988 and continued to abuse boys while working with them, some of whom are current plaintiffs.
Dykes was eventually sentenced in 1994 to 18 years in prison after he was found guilty in another multi-child, molestation case. Most of them were Scouts. He was released in 2005 and lives as a registered sex offender in Oregon.
Kelly Clark, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, as well as Devon Smith, a spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America, declined to comment until after the jury rules in the case.
Boy Scouts of America Say They Protected Children from Abuse
But testimony on the stand has revealed a glimpse into the thinking of Boy Scouts of America officials, who have said that they were trying to protect the young boys from pedophiles.
Grant Robinson, a retired Boy Scouts of America executive, testified last week that the organization was aware of the issue of child abuse, according to the Associated Press.
"From the time I was hired, we were informed there was the potential of pedophiles coming into our organization," Robinson said. "We were very sensitive to the issue."
But Eugene Grant, the president of the scout chapter where Dykes was employed, has pointed fingers at the Scouts' parents, testifying that they should have known better than to allow their children to spend a night with an older man.
His parents should have known better," Grant said, according to the AP, referring to the sleepover Dykes allegedly had with scout members at his apartment to learn more about scouting.
"I just find it almost incomprehensible to think their children were going to be safe in that type of environment," Grant said.
But the Boy Scouts of America made its name by convincing parents and children to trust their leadership, said author Boyle, who says the defense in this case is contradictory.
"In one way, Grant is right, it is true that you shouldn't be sending your kids out to spend a night with a guy you don't know," Boyle said. "But the irony of that statement is that the reason the kids were allowed to go is because their parents trusted the Boy Scouts of America.
"Now, when the parents do trust them, the Boy Scouts of America say, 'Oh, you shouldn't have trusted us,'" he said.
But even Boyle, who says that the vast majority of the complaints the organization receives concern sexual abuse, said this trial will be an uphill battle for the plaintiffs.
"The Scouts have a century of goodwill built up, people don't hold the Scouts in contempt," he said. "The public in the past has given the Scouts a lot of room and benefit of the doubt, not too many people hate the Scouts."