Two lawsuits filed Monday in Rochester mark the first sexual abuse complaints brought against the Boy Scouts under a new Minnesota law allowing victims to sue for abuse alleged to have happened decades ago.
St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, one of the nation’s leading litigators of sexual abuse claims, filed the suits on behalf of former Scouts identified as Doe 8 and Doe 9, who say they were abused in the 1970s by Richard Hokanson, a convicted child molester who now lives in Faribault, Minn. Anderson said Hokanson spent nearly 22 years as a Scout leader, and held other positions in the Rochester area involving youth activities.
The suits are the first in Minnesota involving the Boy Scouts of America filed under the law that took effect in May.
It eliminates the civil statute of limitations for children who are sexually abused and allows a three-year window for adult victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue their perpetrators and/or institutions that may have allowed the abuse.
Several lawsuits have already been filed against Catholic dioceses in Minnesota, and Monday’s complaints open the door for more against the Boy Scouts, Anderson said.
“What we’re here to do today is sound the alarm,” said Anderson, announcing the suits outside the Olmsted County Courthouse.
Organization regrets abuse
Besides the Boy Scouts of America, other defendants named in the lawsuits are Hokanson, Gamehaven Council, a branch of the Scouts in southeastern Minnesota, and St. Pius X Catholic Church of Rochester, which sponsored the troop.
The suits allege that a number of adults involved with the church, the troop and the Boy Scouts received information in the early 1970s about Hokanson’s alleged abuse and failed to act, enabling Hokanson to prey on other children.
The suit alleges that Hokanson sexually abused more than 21 young Scouts in the troop from at least 1969 to 1982. Anderson says the abuse happened at the church and scouting-related trips and activities.
The Boy Scouts of America released a statement Monday saying it couldn’t comment specifically about the suits but that “any instance of child victimization or abuse is intolerable and unacceptable. … We deeply regret that there have been times when Scouts were abused, and for that we are very sorry and extend our deepest sympathies to victims.”
When reached by phone on Monday, Hokanson, 77, said he was not aware of the lawsuits and declined to comment. St. Pius X church did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.
On Monday, Anderson identified Doe 8 as Michael Keller, 51, of Tennessee. In a statement read aloud by Anderson, Keller said:
“In the time since my abuse, I have struggled with the secrecy and denial fostered by adults associated with scouting. Throughout the approximately six years of sexual abuse and manipulation by Hokanson, I reached out to numerous adults to question what was happening and ultimately to seek their help. No help came.”
Other abusive leaders
Since October 2012, the Boy Scouts of America has released files documenting reports of sexual abuse by scoutmasters and adult leaders over several decades, including Hokanson and about 41 other Scout leaders from Minnesota, according to Anderson.
Hokanson was criminally charged for the abuse of three Scouts, and in 1982 pleaded guilty to a single felony count of sexual abuse, according to the lawsuit.
He was sentenced to 42 months in state prison, stayed on condition that Hokanson undergo treatment in the intensive sexual abuse program at St. Peter.
Anderson said Hokanson was also imprisoned for 40 months on a 1994 child abuse conviction and went back to prison on a probation violation in 2008.
He was released in 2012 and is under 24-hour-a-day electronic monitoring.