A St. Paul attorney is seeking to force the Boy Scouts of America to release decades of private files on alleged sexual abuse by claiming that the organization has become a “public nuisance.”
The same legal strategy by attorney Jeff Anderson has succeeded in recent years in forcing the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to make public an unprecedented volume of personnel records and other documents about Twin Cities priests accused of child sex abuse.
The “public nuisance” claim, which contends that the Boy Scouts were negligent in covering up the sexual abuse and failing to warn the public, parents and participants about the problem, was part of two lawsuits filed Thursday in Ramsey County against the organization on behalf of two former Scouts.
Those Scouts, who grew up on St. Paul’s East Side, are now adults. They stepped before the cameras at Anderson’s offices Thursday to assert that they were abused as boys by scoutmasters.
David Lundquist was 11 when the alleged abuse took place, Steven Josephson was between the ages of 12 and 15.
“When a Scout leader abuses a child,” Anderson said, “the Scouts take that information and keep it in a file, and even if they remove the leader who offends, they keep that secret and the file secret in their headquarters in Texas.
“These suits seek to cause the Boy Scouts of America to come clean, to make children safe, by exposing and disclosing all the ‘perversion files’ to the public, to the people and to the leaders on the ground who need to know, so kids can be protected.”
The Minnesota-based Northern Star Council of Scouting released a statement saying the files “were confidential to encourage prompt reporting and protect the identity of any victims.”
“To be proactive in protecting children, Scouting dismisses volunteers immediately at the allegation of misconduct, rather than waiting for proof of guilt,” it said. “The files may contain names of individuals who were wrongly accused or cannot be prosecuted with available evidence. If crimes are prosecutable, the criminal records are public.”
Such things were once “intentionally kept quiet,” the statement said, but these days “all reports of abuse are immediately conveyed to law enforcement, even if victims or their families wished that such reports be kept confidential,” and all old information has been passed on to law enforcement officials.
Lundquist, 56, now of Woodbury, said the pain caused by the abuse and by the unwillingness of Scouting officials to believe him, is something he has carried “for a long, long time. Now I unload that shame and it needs to be unloaded. If I can do that today and maybe help other people unload that shame they’ve been living with, it’s worth it.”
The accused Scout leaders are Leland Opalinski, and Richard Swendiman, both deceased.
Opalinski, who was barred from scouting in 1971 after the organization learned that he pleaded guilty to a charge of indecent liberties with a teenage boy and placed on seven years’ probation, also was the subject of a lawsuit filed last month by Ramsey County board chair Jim McDonough, who accused the Scout leader of sexually abusing him for four years while he was in Scouts.
“Ineligible Volunteer” files from 1965 to 1985 have been released already. The Scouts say they were introduced as evidence in 2012 in an Oregon legal proceeding, and then “media successfully sued for their release, and they became public regardless of provable guilt.”
At issue in these two new cases, Anderson said, are files created since that time.
The lawsuits, like those against the Catholic Church, stem from the 2013 Minnesota Child Victims Act, which lifted the statute of limitations for child abuse cases, opening a three-year window for people to sue.
Deron Smith, director of communications for the Boy Scouts of America, said Thursday the organization only recently became aware of the new lawsuits, but will review them and “respond appropriately.
“Although it is difficult to understand or explain individuals’ actions from decades ago, I can tell you that the BSA seeks to protect youth through comprehensive programs of education, leader selection process, criminal background checks, and policies to serve as barriers to abuse. Nothing is more important than the safety of our youth members.”
He said Opalinski and Swendiman were removed from scouting in the early 1970s and placed in the organization’s ineligible volunteer files, “which precludes them from further participation in the program.”