A civil lawsuit alleging sexual abuse by a notorious Athens Boy Scouts leader added a new plaintiff Friday — the fifth former Scout to accuse the late Ernest Boland of multiple assaults.
The Boy Scouts’ so-called “Perversion Files,” which detail some of the alleged molestations by adult volunteers over a period of several decades, revealed Boland victimized at least a dozen boys between the 1950s and 1977, when he was finally forced out of the organization.
Before then, the lawsuit alleges, some of Athens’ more prominent residents, seeking to protect the Scouts’ reputation, worked to suppress the stories of some of the victims who came forward. Meanwhile, Boland allegedly continued grooming and molesting boys.
“Beyond the five men named in this suit, we want the Boy Scouts, the churches and institutions that are their chartering organizations, and the leaders they select, to focus on protecting our children rather than protecting those accused of sexual abuse,” says attorney Darren Penn, representing the accusers.
According to his complaint, filed Friday, the fifth plaintiff — using the pseudonym Tim Doe — joined the suit after learning the Boy Scouts, two of its regional governing councils, and three Athens churches knew about the allegations, confirmed many of them, yet chose not to act. Up until then, Doe’s complaint states, he thought he was Boland’s only victim. He alleges he was abused repeatedly over a four-year period, starting in 1968 when he was 10 years old and Boland was scoutmaster of Troop 2.
The revelations hit Doe especially hard because his father served on the Green Acres Baptist Church council — which sponsored Troop 2 — was named in the suit, and was present when another parent accused Boland of sexual abuse in or around 1975.
Green Acres allowed Boland to resign and never reported the allegations to police or the public, the complaint asserts. Boland moved on to become scoutmaster for a troop sponsored by another defendant, Beech Haven Baptist Church, where he is alleged to have abused another of the plaintiffs in the Athens suit.
“This recent discovery of the truth tore open old wounds, ripped apart old scars, and traumatized Plaintiff all over again,” Doe’s complaint states.
It is a vicious cycle that informs many of the legal cases against the Scouts. There’s even some intersection between the Athens case and a suit filed in 2016 by a Gainesville man who alleges he was raped by Boland’s former assistant scoutmaster and protégé, Fleming Weaver. That incident, which allegedly occurred in 1985 at a Boy Scouts campground — where Boland also allegedly molested some of his victims — came after Weaver had left Athens to become scoutmaster at a Gainesville troop. He left abruptly in 1981.
A 2016 investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that Weaver was forced to resign from Troop 26 after admitting to First Baptist Church of Gainesville pastor Steve Brown that he’d abused two boys under his supervision.
Law enforcement was never notified. Weaver remained active in the Scouts.
And that’s what happened in Athens, according to the suit. Church pastors knew. The Scouts knew. But police were never told. And if they ever found out, it was generally too late.
The Athens and Gainesville suits were filed within a one-time special provision that extended the statute of limitations in Georgia for childhood victims of sexual abuse seeking damages. That provision expired last year.
Efforts to codify it permanently subsequently failed, and Georgia makes it more difficult than most states to go after organizations such as the Boy Scouts and the institutions, mostly churches, that sponsor them.
Earlier this year, Georgia state legislators defeated a bill that would have extended the statute of limitations for lawsuits to age 38 from the current 23 while opening a one-year window during which adults of any age could have sued both those they say molested them and organizations that covered it up.
The Boy Scouts lobbied aggressively behind the scenes to defeat the Hidden Predator Act, although in statements given to the press whenever a new lawsuit is filed against the organization, the organization expresses outrage toward unspecified incidents of abuse and offers apologies to unnamed victims and their families.
They also stress that much has changed in the ensuing years, and that their efforts to protect youth have been strengthened — a widely accepted claim.
But the Boy Scouts have resisted transparency, something the Athens lawsuit aims to remedy. The suit seeks to force a release of all information regarding sexual predators in accordance with the law and change policy governing how Boy Scouts organizations disseminate information on abusers.
“While the Boy Scouts have in recent years instituted significant reforms and processes in an effort to protect our youth, the organization continues to resist efforts to release information about past sexual offenders,” Penn, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.