Ramsey County official sues Boy Scouts for alleged sex abuse

Jim McDonough is suing the Boy Scouts of America.
Jim McDonough is suing the Boy Scouts of America and its Northern Star Council claiming he was sexually abused by his scoutmaster over a period of four years.
Brandt Williams | MPR News

Ramsey County Board Chair Jim McDonough filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the Boy Scouts of America and a local affiliate, alleging that a scoutmaster sexually abused him more than 40 years ago.

With his wife sitting on his right and his lawyer on his left, during a press conference McDonough made public a very private part of his life. If not for a state law that allows adult victims of childhood abuse to sue in civil court, he said he may not have come forward.

"For four years, I was sexually assaulted by my scoutmaster," he said.

JIm McDonough in 1968
Jim McDonough in 1968, during the time he was being abused.
Courtesy Jim McDonough

McDonough became a member of Troop 12 in St. Paul in 1967, when he was 12 years old. He said for the next four years adult Scoutmaster Leland Opalinski abused him dozens of times during meetings and camping trips in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The lawsuit, filed in Ramsey County District Court, does not provide details of the abuse. McDonough said he chose not to tell anyone at the time he was being abused because he thought it was his fault.

"It was my shame," McDonough said, "and it defined me, right? So my response was to medicate that pain with a lot of drugs and alcohol."

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McDonough said he started to receive counseling for drug and alcohol abuse in 1983, but didn't seriously think about taking any legal action until the Legislature passed the Minnesota Child Victims Act, which Gov. Mark Dayton signed in May 2013.

"A three-year window was created for me and other child victims to demand accountability," McDonough said.

Last year, the Boy Scouts of America settled a suit with a Minnesota man who said a different Twin Cities scoutmaster, Peter Stibal, sexually abused him. It was the Boy Scouts' second settlement over sexual abuse allegations against Stibal. A third civil suit in that case was filed in January.

The Boy Scouts keep files on volunteers accused of misconduct to track them and keep them from participating in future scouting activities.

Opalinski's file reveals that in 1971, Opalinski was arrested and charged with sodomy and "indecent liberties with minor children." Opalinski, then 30, pleaded guilty to "indecent liberties" with a 14-year-old boy who was not McDonough. A judge sentenced Opalinski to seven years of probation.

McDonough's attorney, Patrick Noaker, said the Boy Scouts removed Opalinski after his conviction, but did inform the parents of troop members.

McDonough's suit makes several allegations against the local and national Boy Scouts groups. They include negligence, negligent supervision and fraud.

Noaker said dozens of other Boy Scouts volunteers in Minnesota also are included in the files, but the Boy Scouts have not provided their names.

"Those people are in our communities, and kids and parents don't know who they are," Noaker said. "Parents deserve to know who they are so they can protect their children from them."

The Northern Star Council oversees scouting in central Minnesota and part of Wisconsin. According to the council's website, the names of some of the volunteers barred from scouting are kept private to protect the identity of victims or of people wrongly accused. However, it states that the criminal files are public if charges are filed.

"Nothing is more important than the safety of our youth members, and we are profoundly saddened when anyone uses their position to harm any child," Kent York, a spokesman for the council, said in a written statement.

The Texas-based Boy Scouts of America has not responded to a request for comment.