Army Major Files Civil Suit Over Alleged Sexual Abuse In Boy Scouts
LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Attorneys for a Southland military doctor who suffered “multiple acts of sexual abuse” as a teenage Boy Scout filed a civil lawsuit Wednesday.
Dr. Drew Belnap, a U.S. Army Major and active duty member of the military, is the plaintiff in the four-count lawsuit, which alleges longtime Scoutmaster John Atwood committed sexual abuse against Belnap in the summer of 1991 at Lost Valley located in Warner Springs, Calif., when he was 15.
According to attorneys, Atwood was “a very popular” Scoutmaster at the camp, which is operated by the Orange County Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Belnap joined the Boy Scouts in La Habra at the age of 11, and became an Eagle Scout in 1991.
Atwood, who was convicted in 1992 of serial sexual abuse of minors, allegedly offered to pick up Belnap and another scout and drive them to the Lost Valley reservation.
When the other scout decided not to go along, Atwood and Belnap took a detour to go off-roading and ended up camping out, with plans to head to Lost Valley the next day, according to attorneys.
That night, the lawsuit alleges Atwood “provided a large cooler with wine coolers and beer” for Belnap, who eventually became intoxicated. Attorneys say that’s when Atwood sexually assaulted Belnap.
The next day, Belnap told a weekend volunteer at Lost Valley who was a member of the BSA Orange County Leadership Council, according to the lawsuit, but neither this Scout leader nor any other BSA official informed the police.
It was not until almost a week later, when Drew told his parents what happened to him, and discovered that Atwood had sexually assaulted another scout, that police were informed by Drew’s father, attorneys said. Atwood was then charged and convicted.
Irwin Zalkin, lead attorney for Belnap, said the civil action was filed to “compel the Boy Scouts to take seriously necessary policy changes to protect children from sexual abuse by predators attracted to scouting as a means of gaining access to their prey.”
“Drew suffered horrendous abuse, all the more tragic because it was so easily preventable,” said Zalkin. “Cases like his, and the lessons we learn from them, are critical to holding accountable the institutions that we trust to care for our children.”
In the lawsuit, Belnap described an “environment rife with the potential for sexual abuse,” including the alleged availability of alcohol to underage scouts and minors and older scout leaders who would assist in purchasing alcohol for younger scouts and would allow them to drink in areas where legally of age scout leaders would drink.
According to the lawsuit, boys and men would shower naked together in open communal showers and spend time drinking and alone together in the ranger’s cabin and other sleeping facilities.
Despite a Boy Scout Rule enacted in 1987 prohibiting a scout and an adult scout leader being together unsupervised, witnesses observed Atwood leave camping and other activities alone with a young scout to spend long stretches in the woods or in a cabin, according to Zalkin.
At least one scout leader was sexually assaulted by Atwood years prior to Atwood’s abuse of Dr. Belnap and the other two boys in 1991, the lawsuit alleged.
There was no immediate response to the litigation from the Boy Scouts of America.
Last October, the Boy Scouts of America released 20,000 pages of documents relating to alleged instances of sexual abuse by more than 1,200 perpetrators within the organization.
Known as the Perversion Files, those documents were ordered to be produced by an Oregon judge in separate litigation, tried in 2010, resulting in an $18.5 million punitive damages award against the Boy Scouts of America.