Janice Morse reports:
When Thomas Abner was just 7 years old, his older brothers’ Indiana Scoutmaster, Steven O. Woodard, started molesting him, attorney Konrad Kircher said.
“For the next three and a half years, Thomas was abused, molested and raped more than 300 times,” said Kircher, a Mason lawyer who represents Abner in a civil lawsuit he filed Tuesday in Warren County against the Boy Scouts of America.
Some of the molestation allegedly happened in 1999 while Woodard and the Abner family spent a week at a hotel in Mason, visiting Kings Island, Kircher said. No incidents happened at the amusement park itself, Kircher told reporters at a news conference across the street from the park, clarifying language in the lawsuit.
The suit is the first of its kind in Ohio, Kircher said, following the October public release of the Boy Scouts’ formerly secret “perversion files,” about alleged pedophiles among the group’s ranks. Those files will be used in Abner’s case to prove that the Texas-based organization knew about people like Woodard, yet did little or nothing to stop them – and took steps to conceal sex offenses, Kircher said.
The suit accuses the Boy Scouts of fraud and negligence, asserting that the Scouts should have disciplined Woodard for spending time alone with him and his family in non-Scouting activities, a violation of the group’s anti-sex-abuse policies.
Kircher is working on Abner’s suit with two Oregon lawyers, Kelly Clark and Paul Mones, who were the lead trial attorneys in a landmark 2010 case that forced release of the files and led to a $19.5 million judgment against the Boy Scouts.
In an unusual twist, even though Woodard pleaded guilty in 2002 to sex crimes against Abner in Delaware County, Ind., “this case probably could not be brought in Indiana,” Kircher said. That’s because Indiana has not revamped laws that set time limits for childhood sex-abuse victims to file lawsuits, Kircher said.
In 2006, Ohio law changed, allowing child sexual-abuse survivors to file lawsuits up until the age of 30. “Six or seven years ago, this lawsuit would not have been possible,” Kircher said, noting many victims take years to muster the courage to disclose abuse.
In response to Abner’s suit, the Boy Scouts of America released a statement from its director of public relations, Deron Smith: “Any instance of child victimization or abuse is intolerable and unacceptable. While we have not seen this lawsuit, 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.”
Kircher countered: “Steven Woodard followed a pattern that was not unknown to the Boy Scouts. The Boy Scouts had tracked predators. … they had tracked the Steven Woodards of the world.”
That’s what the “perversion files” demonstrate. The publicly released files cover the period of 1965-85, ending a decade before Woodard met the Abner family.
Thomas Abner told his mother about Woodard’s abuse when he was 14, Kircher said, leading to criminal charges against Woodard. The Scoutmaster had faced a 108-year prison term. But after a plea agreement, Woodard was sentenced to seven years in prison for molesting three boys, two of whom were former members of the Indiana-based Scout troop, Muncie’s newspaper, The Star Press, reported.
At Woodard’s 2002 sentencing, a judge noted that concerns about Woodard had been raised to Scout officials, “apparently without success,” the newspaper reported; two active scouting leaders spoke in support of Woodard, leaving a victims’ advocate “absolutely furious.”
Woodard only spent about three years in prison before he died of liver failure, Kircher said.
As for Abner, he’s been struggling to confront psychological problems attributed to his abuse. Now 25 and living in Arizona, Abner made the unusual choice of “going public,” using his real name in the suit, rather than a pseudonym Kircher said, because “it’s part of his healing process.”
Reporter Douglas Walker of The Star Press contributed to this story.