A St. Paul attorney has filed what he said are the first civil lawsuits against the Boy Scouts of America under the terms of a new Minnesota law that allows sex abuse victims to reach back farther than ever into history.
Jeffrey Anderson filed the two suits in Rochester for two former scouts (unnamed in the filing) who allege Rochester scoutmaster Richard Hokanson abused them in the 1970s.
Anderson identified one of the plaintiffs as Michael Keller, 51, from Tennessee, who claims scoutmaster Richard Hokanson started to abuse him when he was 11, in 1973 or 1974.
"I reached out to numerous adults to question what was happening, and, ultimately, to seek their help," Keller said in a statement released by Anderson. "No help came." Anderson said Hokanson pled guilty to a felony sex abuse charge in connection with three other Boy Scouts in 1982.
Anderson is known for his lawsuits on behalf of victims of clergy abuse, but said recent disclosures by the Boy Scouts and by the passage this spring of the Minnesota Child Victims Act have made lawsuits like those filed today possible.
The law lifts the time limit on civil suits going forward. In older cases, it offers a three-year window for past victims to file lawsuits against abusers and institutions that may have failed to intervene in suspected abuse cases. Previous state law required victims to file a lawsuit before they turned 24 years of age.
"Both of these survivors have the opportunity to file these civil cases today because in Minnesota the law has opened up, and give them an opportunity to not only expose their offender, to reach out to those that have been harmed, but to seek accountability against those that not only molested and or raped the children, but those that failed to protect them." Anderson said. "The Boy Scouts of America, through their volunteers and through their employees, failed these children."
The Boy Scouts of America Gamehaven Council, based in Rochester, issued this statement Monday afternoon:
"Any instance of child victimization or abuse is intolerable and unacceptable. While we can't comment on the 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."
The former scoutmaster could not be reached, although Anderson said he believes Hokanson lives in Faribault.
St. Pius X Catholic Church in Rochester was also named in the suit, because the church sponsored the Boy Scout troop that Hokanson led. The Diocese of Winona oversees St. Pius X, and diocesan spokesman Joel Hennessy said today that the church did take action in Hokanson's case.
"We continue to mourn the actions of Richard Hokanson and mourn for his victims of sexual abuse," Hennessy said in a statement from Winona. "When Hokanson was charged with criminal sexual conduct in the 1970s, the staff at St. Pius X worked along with law enforcement to ensure the matter was properly investigated."
The diocese did not directly respond to the lawsuit.
Anderson said recently released Boy Scouts of America internal files show that there were 19 suspected "ineligible volunteers" in Minnesota -- adults that Anderson believes the Boy Scouts suspected of sexual misconduct -- from 1999 to 2008. Anderson said Boy Scout files indicated 23 adults in Minnesota were declared ineligible for similar reasons from 1965 to 1985.