The Boy Scouts of America and Chicago-area scouting officials failed to protect children from a convicted pedophile, even though he had been banned from scouting in Indiana, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Chicago.
The suit was filed in Cook County Circuit Court on behalf of an anonymous former scout who said he was molested by scoutmaster Thomas Hacker in 1985. Hacker, now 75, was convicted in 1989 of molesting three boys and sentenced to two concurrent 50-year prison terms.
But recently released documents show that the Boy Scouts had a confidential file on Hacker in 1970 based on reports that he’d been arrested in Indiana for sexually assaulting boys in scouting and at a school where he taught, the lawsuit claims. The arrest led to a felony conviction, yet Hacker resurfaced as a scoutmaster in the Chicago suburbs in 1971 and by the end of that year had been arrested again.
Despite that, Hacker became a committee chairman and scoutmaster in the Chicago Area Council in 1983 or 1984 because neither the BSA nor the local council conducted a background check, the lawsuit alleges.
“This is an egregious case of our client being let down by the informal and ineffective system Scouting had in place to protect its members,” said attorney Christopher Hurley.
The plaintiff – known only as “John Doe” in the lawsuit – grew up in Burbank, Ill., and became a Boy Scout in the early 1980s. He was 10 years old when Hacker sexually abused him in 1985 “on routine occasions during, before, or after various scouting activities,” according to the lawsuit, which said the plaintiff, “continues to suffer physical and emotional pain and dysfunction.”
Hacker was arrested in 1988, and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services told the Boy Scouts that he had abused at least 34 children.
Charles Dobbins, CEO of the Chicago Area Council issued a statement Tuesday saying he hadn’t seen the lawsuit, but “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.”
He said the Boy Scouts has updated its policies and procedures, including background checks and training programs. It also requires members to report suspected abuse directly to law enforcement.
The lawsuit claims the plaintiff suppressed memories of the abuse, which resurfaced in October during widespread publicity over the release of Boy Scouts’ so-called “perversion files.”
The Oregon Supreme Court ordered the public release of 14,500 pages of secret files, which showed the organization had long sought to protect its reputation by shielding scoutmasters and others accused of molesting children.
Those files are a window on a much larger collection of documents the Boy Scouts of America began collecting soon after their founding in 1910. The files, kept at Boy Scout headquarters in Texas, consist of memos from local and national Scout executives, handwritten letters from victims and their parents and newspaper clippings about legal cases. The files contain details about proven molesters, as well as unsubstantiated allegations.
The lawsuit also accuses the Boy Scouts of misrepresenting and underreporting the nature and number of predatory and pedophile scout leaders since 1971. It seeks damages exceeding $50,000.
“BSA’s own files collected and maintained in secrecy for so many years, show that scouting was a magnet for pedophiles,” Hurley said. “The magnitude of the problem was immense. The magnitude of the response, for far too long, has been inadequate and unacceptable.”
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