Monday, November 16, 2009

Three LDS Men File Suit In San Francisco Against LDS Church, Boy Scouts, And Stepfather William Knox For Alleged Childhood Sexual Abuse

Update November 20th: Additional new information posted in green.

Here we go again. We've got three more people who suddenly woke up one morning, decided they were sexually abused 20 or so years ago, and are just now filing a civil suit. Cases like these strain credulity because the plaintiffs wait so long to seek justice. The most comprehensive media story of this latest caper has been published by the San Francisco Appeal; additional stories by the Oakland Tribune and KNTV Channel 11.

Three brothers, identified only as John Does #1, #2, and #3, announced on November 16th, 2009 that they have filed a civil suit in San Francisco Superior Court against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Boy Scouts of America, their own stepfather, 65-year-old William T. Knox, and Edna M. Dowell. Although Knox is the primary target of the suit, the LDS Church and the Boy Scouts are also targeted because Knox was acting as an agent of both organizations. Dowell is being targeted because she allegedly was hired by the LDS Church to provide professional therapy to Knox, the three plaintiffs, and the plaintiffs mother. The 40-page package of suit documents can now be viewed on the RenewAmerica website. Seven causes of action, applicable to all defendants except where otherwise noted, are specified:

(1). Negligence
(2). Vicarious Liability (except for William Knox)
(3). Constructive Fraud
(4). Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
(5). Sexual Battery
(6). Assault
(7). Premises Liability for Physical and Sexual Assault

The three plaintiffs are being represented by the infamous serial litigator Kelly Clark, who's made a career out of targeting the LDS Church with sex abuse lawsuits. He runs a dedicated website called Clark admits to forum-shopping; he said the lawsuit was filed in San Francisco because state law allows lawsuits to be filed in any county in which the defendants do business. Two of the brothers now live in Georgia and the third in Colorado.

The LDS Church is being represented by San Jose lawyer Allen Ruby, who said, "Any allegation of childhood abuse is a serious matter...the church will defend itself... . The law does not make a church responsible for the conduct of a stepfather toward his children." Ruby is an extremely powerful and prominent attorney who defended Barry Bonds, successfully defended the NFL in a billion-dollar Al Davis suit, and earlier bled an $80 million settlement out of the federal government.

John Doe 1 alleges he was sexually abused from 1977 to 1982, John Doe 2 from 1977 to 1986 and John Doe 3 from 1977 to 1987. The brothers are now aged 43, 41, and 39 years old respectively. The abuse began in 1977, two years before Knox married the boys' mother. Knox used his position as a church elder and youth leader to begin abusing them when they were members of a church-chartered Boy Scouts troop for which he was assistant leader. The molestation began during individual sleepovers at Knox's Sunnyvale apartment. After the marriage in 1979, the sexual assaults allegedly continued at the family's Sunnyvale home, in Knox's car on trips to church and Boy Scouts activities, and during Scouts camping trips. The alleged abuse included fondling, child masturbation and oral copulation.

The boys allegedly sought redress, although they never pressed criminal charges. They told local church officials and the Boy Scouts of the alleged abuse in 1984 and informed a church counselor in 1985, but allege that the molestation was never reported to law enforcement authorities. They also allege that the church and Boy Scouts were aware that Knox had shown a propensity to abuse boys when he lived in San Diego before moving to Sunnyvale in the early 1970s.

Why did they wait so long to file suit? They said they filed their lawsuit now because they became aware of the psychological effects of the abuse after they learned in December 2008 that Knox and their mother had moved to the same Georgia town where two of them live. They said that caused them to begin for the first time to connect the psychological and emotional problems they suffered as adults to the alleged childhood abuse. But a review of a similar case involving Ferris Joseph may reveal another reason why the delay passes judicial muster; because of a quirk in the law, the civil statute of limitations does not date back to the act itself, but dates back to three years after someone first "remembers" the act.

The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of financial compensation. Clark said the men filed a civil lawsuit because the statute of limitations for a criminal prosecution has passed. The brothers said they are seeking to hold the institutions accountable and to prevent molestation of other children.

Analysis: The length of time since the abuse, and the lack of a criminal prosecution weakens the veracity of this suit. I understand that memories of this abuse can be painful, but why wait over 20 years? Why should I or anyone else suddenly believe them now?

In addition, unless the LDS Church and the BSA actively conspired to cover this up, I don't see how they can be held civilly accountable. Understanding of and sensitivity to this issue was not as great 20-30 years ago as it is now. Since that time, the LDS Church has firmed up their policy against sex abuse. They now have a zero tolerance policy, spelled out on the official Church website. In short, convicted child abusers are excommunicated, and since 1995, the Church has placed a confidential annotation on the membership record of members who previously abused children. These records follow them to any congregation where they move, thereby alerting bishops not to place them in situations with children.

I hope the LDS Church will stand firm and NOT settle out of court.


Anonymous said...

Hmm...if you read what the suit alledges, the abuse started before the marriage...opps not step-father now... the boys told their bishop, and the the Mormon leaders did nothing to protect them and the abuse continued..oops...sounds like the Church is liable. The suit says there was sufficient evidence to a judge of the validity of the claims of neglegence...opps

Jack Mormon said...

That would depend upon your concept of liability. There should be a clear cut standard as to when a person or institution incurs liability. To try to impose liability upon an institution more than 20 years after the fact is spurious - and patently unfair.

Anonymous said...

Have to agree with Anonymous on this one Jack. The law and judge will determine liability, not you. What would be unfair is to rob the men of justice if they can prove it. Remember, you got to prove it and it appears that this claim was valid enought to make the first cut already. They will have to prove it and they probably can.

Wake Up said...

Jack, 'zero tolerance'...they may say it, but what they don't say is they report all suspected or 'confessed' occurances of child abuse...that's not zero is it that in 2009 the LDS Church does NOT mandate reporting suspected abuse to child protection authorities and/or police to be unconditionally investigated for the safety and well-being of THE CHILD? That's not zero tolerance...that's not unconditionally protecting the child (who they so profess to cherish) who may NOT have a parentaly advocate...heaven forbid...what if the parent is the abuser!! This is not a zero tolerace policy at all! Zero tolerance means manditory reporting to child protection agencies!

Come on Jack...