PHOENIX - Eight lawsuits filed on Dec. 21 allege that Boy Scout leaders in Arizona had sexually abused children dating back decades, signaling what is expected to be a flood of lawsuits in the state before the end of the year for childhood sex abuse victims who now are 30 years of age or older.
Arizona joined several other states last year in extending the rights of childhood sexual abuse victims to sue their alleged assailants and any churches, youth groups or other institutions that turned a blind eye to the abuse.
Lawmakers gave victims until their 30th birthday to sue — a decade longer than before — and opened a one-time window for victims who’ve missed the cutoff, who now have until the end of 2020 to file suit. Arizona has no deadline for criminal charges in child sexual abuse cases.
Michael Pfau, a Seattle attorney who filed the eight lawsuits against local Boy Scout councils in Arizona and expects to file four more in the state by year’s end, said the Boy Scouts systematically failed to keep sexual predators who were Scout leaders from preying on children. "They weren’t warning Scouts and their families of the dangers," Pfau said.
The Boy Scout logo and a uniform are displayed in a store on July 27, 2015. (File photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Tim Kosnoff, an attorney who founded the national group Abuse in Scouting, said his group will file 250 to 300 sex abuse lawsuits against local Boy Scout councils in Arizona before the end of 2020.
The Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy protection in February in the first step toward creating a compensation fund for men who were molested as youngsters decades ago by scoutmasters or other leaders. Close to 90,000 sexual abuse claims have been filed against the Boy Scouts of America. The Boy Scouts are the latest major American institution to face a heavy price over sexual abuse. Roman Catholic dioceses across the country and schools such as Penn State and Michigan State have paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years.
Among the contentious issues still to be addressed in the Boy Scouts bankruptcy case is the extent to which the Boy Scouts’ local councils contribute to the compensation fund. In its bankruptcy filing, the national organization said the councils, which have extensive property holdings and other assets, are separate legal entities and should not be included as debtors in the case.
Of the eight lawsuits Monday, four were filed in Maricopa County, three in Pima County and one in Mohave County.
The Boy Scout’s Grand Canyon and Catalina councils issued statements saying the groups apologize to the children who were harmed during their time in scouting and said they were outraged that their programs were used by people to abuse innocent children. "We believe victims, we support them, we pay for counseling by a provider of their choice and we encourage them to come forward," the statements said.
The Las Vegas Area Council didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on a sexual abuse lawsuit filed against it in Mohave County.
Survivor talks to FOX 10 about his experience
Calmes feels a weight off his shoulders after telling his story. He tells FOX 10's Justin Lum that the woman he recently married convinced him to take action and tell his story, but it's still unknown how the man accused of sexually abusing Calmes as a child got cleared to be a Boy Scout leader based on his record.
"Don't have to hide anymore, don't have to be ashamed anymore," he said, adding, "It's not that kept secret that nobody's talking about anymore."
In the lawsuit, Calmes says Herbert Henry Falk took naked photos of him. At the time, he was in his early teens.
"But you were almost frozen, like shocked, scared, not knowing how to behave or react," he said.
By 1988, the Boy Scouts of America finally suspended Falk's registration after complaints of him "attaching himself to certain boys" and "trying to get them in one-on-one situations."
Pfau, one of the lawyers representing Calmes, said Falk was never criminally charged with abusing Calmes, though he pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor child molestation charge in 1983 in Stockton, California, was removed from Scouting in 1988, and died in 2011.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.