Closing arguments began Thursday in a $29 million sex abuse lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America. Former assistant Scoutmaster Timur Dykes, seen in this undated image, has admitted molesting the victim who filed the lawsuit.
A jury in Portland, Ore., is set to decide a high-profile case involving sexual abuse in the Boy Scouts organization, which is accused of putting boys in danger by keeping reports of misconduct under wraps.
The plaintiff in the case says he was molested by his scoutmaster 25 years ago, and he's asking for $29 million in damages.
This case centers on Boy Scout Troop 719 in Portland in the 1980s. The troop was sponsored by the local Mormon church and supervised by a bishop. In 1983, according to depositions, assistant scoutmaster Timur Dykes confessed to the bishop that he had molested 17 boys. At least one family pursued charges with the police. Dykes was placed on probation and told to stay away from kids, but he was allowed to keep volunteering at scouting events.
"They knew that their charismatic assistant Scout leader Timur Dykes, to whom kids flocked like bees to honey, had admitted to molesting 17 Scouts, including Cub Scouts," said Kelly Clark, the plaintiff's attorney. In his closing arguments Thursday, Clark said that by allowing Dykes to stay involved, and by only selectively informing the parents in the troop, the Boy Scouts were negligent.
As a result, Clark argues, his client was abused by Dykes at least five times about a year later.
The Boy Scouts organization has made several arguments in its defense. It says local troops operate independently from the national organization, and its efforts to deal with abuse were responsible by the standards of the 1980s. In his closing argument, Charles Smith, an attorney for the Scouts, said it was common sense to handle the situation with some secrecy.
"Everyone would know in that congregation who was in that Scout troop," Smith said. "And how do you think those boys would have felt going to school the next day?"
The defense asked the jury not to confuse the Boy Scouts with the Catholic Church.
But the scope of the plaintiffs' allegations reaches beyond what took place in Portland in the 1980s. Attorneys say that by that time, the leadership of the Boy Scouts of America knew it had a problem with pedophiles in scouting, but it didn't warn local troop leadership or Scout families about the risk.
The basis for that claim is found in six boxes of confidential Boy Scout files that were released for this trial. They show that between 1965 and 1985, national leaders decided that about 1,600 adults were unfit to volunteer in the program. About 70 percent were kicked out because of what the Scouts labeled perversion. That number is surprising to people who have studied abuse in the Scouts, including Patrick Boyle.
Boyle said there's no evidence that Scout executives told their local partners to keep allegations of abuse quiet. But in several memos, executives express relief when local troop leaders handled things that way.
"What you really have is a culture of silence and nervousness as opposed to any kind of concerted effort," Boyle said. "The Scouts do argue that a lot of what was going on was in the '70s and '80s. And that's just makes these guys go away and forget about it."
In this trial, the Boy Scouts of America still maintains that it does not have a problem with sexual abuse, though it has made some changes to the program. Sleepovers at scoutmasters' homes are explicitly forbidden, and the group has created training materials for parents and children.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, Brian Rapp of Portland and his 7-year-old son stopped by a local Scout office to pick up a new Cub Scout uniform. They were excited about the upcoming Pinewood Derby.
"Everything I did in Scouts I can see in my son," Rapp said. "He likes that stuff."
Rapp hadn't heard much about the trial. When told a little about the case, he said he found the facts upsetting. But he said his son's Cub Scouts pack has only four kids and needs his support.
"I think the Boy Scouts is a great thing," he said. "Something like this, it doesn't make it right, but it would be a shame if it knocks them down even more."
The Boy Scouts of America declined to comment on this story, citing an order from the judge in the trial. The jury begins its deliberations Friday.