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A former Boy Scout who says he was sexually assaulted when he was 10 by his now-imprisoned former troop leader sued the Boy Scouts of America today, citing recently released files the group secretly maintained on suspected molesters in its ranks.
The lawsuit claims the Boy Scouts allowed Thomas Hacker, a Scout leader barred from the group after a 1970s felony sex abuse conviction in Indiana, to rejoin as a volunteer in Illinois in the 1980s, where he went on to molest more boys, including the plaintiff.
Hacker was arrested in 1988 and convicted in 1989 of the aggravated sexual assault of a 11-year-old member of his troop in the southwest suburbs of Chicago.
Now 75, Hacker is currently serving two concurrent 50-year prison terms as a result of his conviction. His defence attorney in the 1989 case called him "a classic paedophile - and sick beyond that," according to a Chicago Tribune story at the time.
The lawsuit filed by a man identified only as John Doe claimed Hacker sexually assaulted him when he was 10 years old after the disbarred Boy Scout leader and convicted sexual molester re-joined the Scouts in Illinois.
"While we have not seen this lawsuit, 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," Boy Scouts of America spokesman Deron Smith said in a statement.
The suit draws on details unearthed this fall when the Boy Scouts of America, one of the country's largest youth organisations, was forced by an Oregon Court to release internal documents they kept on scout leaders and volunteers who were suspected sexual predators.
The files go back almost to the organisation's founding in 1910 and were known as the "red files," the "perversion files" and the "ineligible volunteer files."
Roughly 20,000 pages of files, spanning from 1965 to 1985, were released this fall by order of the Oregon Supreme Court, after a jury in the state found the Scouts liable in a 1980s paedophile case and ordered it to pay nearly $20 million in damages.
Lawyers involved in the Illinois case said it is one of the first to be filed with evidence gleaned from the massive document release. The records released this autumn on about 1,200 "ineligible volunteers" contained a detailed dossier on Hacker.
That dossier included a warning from a Scout leader in Indiana to national officials that Hacker had been "arrested for homosexual activity with many boys both in Scouting and through the school in which he was teaching."
Hacker was subsequently convicted of the felony sexual assault of a 14-year-old boy in the junior high school in Indiana where he worked. In a letter from the national office to the Indiana Scout council, a top official wrote: "Under no circumstances do we want registered in Scouting," according to the complaint.
Hacker was added on the secret "ineligible volunteer" list the national organisation maintained, according to the lawsuit. But a decade later when he left Indiana and moved to Illinois and became active again in Scouting, no one conducted a background check or ran his name against the list of known and suspected pedophiles.
That failure, the lawsuit claims, shows the Boy Scout's efforts to prevent paedophiles from infiltrating its ranks "did not function as it was intended, was flawed, and in many cases ineffective."
The Boy Scouts of America says it now requires even suspected cases of child molestation to be reported immediately to law enforcement and says keeping the old files secret protects victims.
Last week, a Texas appeals court sided with the group, saying the Scouts did not have to turn over its post-1985 files describing sexual abuse complaints against volunteers.
"The Boy Scouts have taken the view that keeping these files secret protects the children," said Christopher Hurley, the Chicago attorney representing John Doe in the case filed Tuesday.
"But in this case it obviously didn't work. It may protect the molesters and the Boy Scouts, but it's not in the best interests of children."
The BSA's Smith said that in the past 30 years the group has added background checks and training programs, and requires law enforcement to be told when there are "even suspicions" of abuse.