Thursday, January 23, 2014

Two Utah Men File Suit Against LDS Church Alleging Child Sex Abuse At Hawaii Pineapple Camp During The Late 1980s

Here we go again. Another one of those lawsuits filed against the LDS Church by a couple of people who claim they were molested by a church youth leader a gazillion years ago, although the plaintiffs agreed to identify themselves publicly to increase their credibility. Jacob Huggard and Kyle Spray (41 and 42 years old, respectively), who are now residents of Pleasant Grove, Utah, claim that while they were engaged in picking pineapples at a camp on Maui, Hawaii operated by Youth Developmental Enterprises from 1986 through 1989, they were sexually abused by Brian R. Pickett, who is identified as having served as the YDE camp coordinator, the branch president of what came to be known as the Pineapple Branch of the Kahului Hawaii Stake, and later, a member of the Kahului Stake High Council. Media sources for this story include KSTU Channel 13, the Salt Lake Tribune, and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Other defendants named in the suit include the LDS Church Corporation of the President, Corporation of the Presiding Bishop, Youth Developmental Enterprises, Maui Land & Pineapple Company, and John Does 1-10.

-- Read the 21-page suit document HERE.

According to the suit document, Pickett allegedly molested the plaintiffs while they were boys at the Maui Land & Pineapple Company barracks, and abuse of one boy allegedly went on at Pickett’s home. Pickett was the boy’s boss, as well as their spiritual leader, as he served as their Branch President. The suit alleges Picket baptized one 15-year-old boy and then sexually molested him. One of the plaintiffs was allegedly abused multiple times. The plaintiffs' attorneys claim that the LDS Church marketed the pineapple camps as a safe, wholesome and exciting adventure, which became attractive to Mormon boys in Utah and Idaho in the 70s and 80s.

The plaintiffs not only are seeking an unspecified amount of general, special, and punitive damages, but also want the LDS Church to take what they call "concrete steps to prevent future abuse and for the healing of the victims". Specifically, they suggested changing corporate policies that direct members and leaders to contact church officials rather than the police or child services when they suspect alleged child sexual abuse. They also suggested changing policies that state LDS Church leaders should try to avoid testifying in civil or criminal cases involving abuse. They suggested other measures relating to transparency and action in cases of alleged sexual abuse, and they also want a written apology from the Church. Many of these steps have already been taken by the Church.

But they also want to impose a gag order on the LDS Church, compelling it to agree never to challenge the constitutionality or legitimacy of any reform of a civil or criminal statute of limitations, mandatory child abuse clergy reporting exemptions, or repeal of the clergy's penitent privilege or other laws which serve to shield child sex abusers from investigation, apprehension, prosecution, and conviction in Hawaii or similar legislation or law in any other state or jurisdiction. In short, the plaintiffs want the LDS Church to sign away some of their First Amendment rights to resolve this case.

And they also want the LDS Church to go so far as to basically publish its own public sex offender registry; to wit, list the names of all Church leaders and members who have been credibly accused of sexual molestation of a child in Hawaii, regardless of whether or not criminal charges were preferred. Leading the charge is the Rosenberg & McKay law firm, which specializes in personal injury lawsuits; clergy sex abuse is one of their specialties. Craig Vernon, an Idaho attorney, is also representing the plaintiffs.

Some of these demands are utterly outrageous. Read the official statement on child abuse published by the LDS Church a while back to find out what steps the Church has already taken to mitigate this problem.

Why 25 Years After The Fact? This lawsuit was made possible by a Hawaii law passed in 2012 that increases the previous two-year time limit to bring sexual assault civil suits to eight years from the time an alleged victim turns 18, or three years from when an alleged victim realizes his or her injury is due to the sexual offense.

LDS Church Reaction: LDS Church Spokesman Cody Craynor released the following official statement in response to the lawsuit:

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has zero tolerance for abuse of any kind and works actively to prevent abuse. This case was filed yesterday, and many details in the legal complaint are unclear. The Church will examine the allegations and respond appropriately."

Here's a interesting comment from someone else who worked in the pineapple camps around the same time period:

ScottH 3 hours ago (Ogden Standard-Examiner):

I, some of my brothers, and some of my friends were among the youth that spent summers working in the pineapple fields of Hawaii years ago. I'm a little confused about information in the article. It is true that the LDS Church and the Boy Scouts of America pioneered the project in 1969-70. But in 1971 the program was handed off to a private corporation named Youth Developmental Enterprises. Neither the church nor the scouts were involved after that; although, promoters recruited workers primarily through school, church, and scouting connections.

During its heyday, YDE shuttled hundreds of boys primarily from the Intermountain area to the islands of Lanai and Maui to work in the pineapple fields. Young adult men (mostly returned LDS missionaries) supervised groups of teen boys. Some of these men held administrative (coordinator) positions in the camps where the boys lived.

While much individual growth occurred in this setting, the situation was also ripe for abuse opportunities. It would have been relatively easy for predators to take advantage of youth. Given the thousands of youth and hundreds of young adult men that were involved in the program over its quarter century existence, I would be very surprised if at least some sexual abuse did not occur.

However, it would seem odd for the LDS Church or the BSA to be named in a suit involving abuse that occurred in the program in the late 1980s, when these entities were not directly involved. It seems likely that the church will successfully seek to be dropped from the suit. While the YDE Corporation would be the appropriate entity to include in the suit, it went out of business in 1993. If Maui Land & Pineapple ends up coughing up a lot of money, I would expect more suits against ML&P and Dole to be forthcoming. ML&P will probably seek to settle quietly instead.


Anonymous said...

Don't forget the creep Mesa bishop that just got arrested too

Urban Milkmaid said...

No one should ever be able to get away with sexually abusing and raping children. Not even a trusted religious leader. If a church hides or shields those rapists, the church should suffer consequences. Statute of limitations is harmful to victims because most victims cannot report, many times because of the very church/family/social structure they live in for decades. This does not excuse the perpetrator of child rape.