Two more former Boy Scouts who suffered sex abuse sue
ST. PAUL -- In August 1970, an 11-year-old David Lundquist told Boy Scout leaders his scoutmaster had taken him into the woods on a camping trip. The man, Richard Swendiman, asked if he wanted to go swimming, stripped off his shorts and told Lund...
ST. PAUL -- In August 1970, an 11-year-old David Lundquist told Boy Scout leaders his scoutmaster had taken him into the woods on a camping trip. The man, Richard Swendiman, asked if he wanted to go swimming, stripped off his shorts and told Lundquist to do the same.
Swendiman then tickled the boy, spanked him and fondled him, Lundquist said. He told him it was an “initiation.” He told him Scouts needed to learn how to keep a secret.
Scouting leaders learned Swendiman had done the same to others, according to the organization’s account. The Boy Scouts cut ties with him and made his file, like those of others accused of sexual misconduct, secret.
It stayed that way for decades, until an Oregon court ordered it released three years ago, along with more than a thousand others. Now Lundquist and another abuse victim are suing the Boy Scouts in a bid to force disclosure of 30 years’ worth of additional files that remain confidential.
The organization said it has a robust system to protect children that now includes background checks, training and mandatory reporting.
It maintains the confidential files, which it calls “ineligible volunteer files” - they’ve also been dubbed “perversion files,” or “confidential files” - “solely to keep out individuals whose actions are inconsistent with the standards of Scouting,” national spokesman Deron Smith said in a statement.
“Scouts are safer because the files exist,” he said.
Smith said the organization recently learned of the lawsuits but “will closely review these matters and respond appropriately.”
The new lawsuits filed Thursday in Ramsey County District Court claim the Boy Scouts systematically failed to warn or protect members or the public from the danger posed by child abusers within the organization’s ranks.
Jeff Anderson, the attorney for Lundquist and fellow plaintiff Steven Josephson, used a similar public-nuisance claim to force disclosure of local Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse.
Minnesota’s first nuisance claim, approved in Ramsey County in 2013, also resulted in depositions of top archdiocese officials about cases beyond that of the single plaintiff who sued about an individual priest.
“From that experience, we learned it could and should apply to the Boy Scouts of America,” Anderson said at a news conference Thursday.
This is the first time public nuisance claims have been made against the organization, Anderson said.
More than 1,200 files, including 39 from cases in Minnesota, were released in 2012 by order of the Oregon Supreme Court after another case there. But the disclosure stopped with 1985 files.
Anderson said thousands remain under wraps.
Until they’re in the open, “you cannot trust the program the way you should be able to trust the program,” he said.
The North Star Council of the Boy Scouts, which oversees Scouting in Central Minnesota and eastern Wisconsin, said in a statement Thursday that all confidential files have been shared with law enforcement.
The organization says the files contain “tips and hearsay” in addition to solid allegations. The Northern Star Council statement said outside experts consider it a best practice to keep them confidential.
The lawsuits claim the Boy Scouts covered up sexual assaults committed by Scout leaders, didn’t warn parents that the organization had a problem and didn’t train staff to look for warning signs.
“They knew or should have known that there was a specific danger of child sexual abuse for children participating in Scouting programs,” the complaints said.
Lundquist, who is now 56 and lives in Woodbury, spoke at the news conference Thursday with Anderson.
He said he came forward and agreed to put his name on the lawsuit - he could have filed as a John Doe - to unburden himself of the shame of the abuse.
“It’s a pain that you carry with you for a long, long time,” he said.
When he spoke up as a boy, he said, Scouting and church leaders doubted the story. He said Swendiman told him the abuse was “all part of being a Boy Scout.”
Josephson, now 59 and living in St. Paul, said he was “tired of living in the shadows” of his abuse.
He said he was molested several times between ages 12 and 15 by his Scout leader, Leland Opalinski.
That’s the same man accused of abusing Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough, who filed his own lawsuit in June.
Josephson said he and McDonough were friends, but neither knew the other was being abused until they got in touch with Anderson in recent years.
Opalinski was cut loose from the Boy Scouts in 1971 after he pleaded guilty to “indecent liberties” with a teen boy and was placed on seven years’ probation. Opalinski, who had been living in Forest Lake, died in 2014 at age 73.
Swendiman died in 2006. He never faced criminal charges, and Anderson said the Boy Scouts never took the allegations against him to police.
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