Another suit charges sex abuse by Scouts volunteer

Updated: 6:45 p.m. | Posted: 3:42 p.m.

A Minnesota man has sued the Boy Scouts for allegedly failing to protect him from a sexually abusive Scouts volunteer.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Ramsey County, is the eighth sex abuse lawsuit filed against the Boy Scouts since state lawmakers passed a bill in 2013 that gave victims more time to sue.

The man, who was not identified in the complaint, said Boy Scout volunteer Leland Opalinski sexually abused him several times from about 1966 to 1971, when he was about 12 to 16 years old.

Opalinski, who died last year, abused the boy at events related to the Boy Scouts and Troop 12 in St. Paul, according to the suit. Some of the abuse happened at First Covenant Church in St. Paul and at the Willow River Campground about 100 miles north of St. Paul, it said.

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The lawsuit accused the national Boy Scouts of America and the Northern Star Council, a local Boy Scouts group, of negligence, negligent retention, and negligent supervision. It said the Boy Scouts engaged in fraud when the organization failed to tell the boy and his parents that pedophiles had used the Boy Scouts in the past to gain access to children and abuse them.

If the boy had known, he would not have joined the Scouts, the suit said.

"Since its inception, BSA aggressively marketed the wholesomeness and safety of its programs to the American public," the complaint said, using an acronym for the Boy Scouts of America. "Simultaneously, BSA concealed from scouts and their parents BSA's certain knowledge that pedophiles had been infiltrating BSA in large numbers for many years."

Attorney Patrick Noaker, who represents the man identified as John Doe 151, filed a similar suit last month on behalf of Ramsey County Board Chair Jim McDonough, who said he was also sexually abused by Opalinski.

Noaker said he has no evidence that the Boy Scouts knew of any allegations of child sex abuse by Opalinski until his arrest on abuse charges in 1971. However, he said that other adults should have noticed that Opalinski had unusually close relationships with boys. After the arrest, the Boy Scouts removed Opalinski as a volunteer and banned him from the organization.

The national Boy Scouts said in a statement that "We were only recently made aware of this suit, but we will closely review this matter and respond appropriately."

The Northern Star Council declined an interview request and referred to a statement posted on the group's website earlier this month in response to lawsuits that alleged abuse by two former Boy Scouts volunteers.

"Our heart goes out to any child who has been harmed by anyone, ever," the Northern Star Council said in its statement. "The recent civil suits, based on reported abuse from the late 1960s and early 1970s, involve two former volunteers who were removed at the time and entered into the BSA's database of ineligible volunteers to block them from reentry anywhere in the country."

The group now requires criminal background checks of volunteers and requires at least two adults to be present at all activities, it said.

Those efforts, it said, have made the Boy Scouts "one of the safest places for children in our community."

"Perversion files"

The Boy Scouts' files on Opalinski and more than 1,200 other men were made public by court order three years ago. The files span two decades — from 1965 to 1985 — and had been submitted as evidence in a lawsuit filed against the Boy Scouts in Oregon in 2010. The Boy Scouts of America tried to keep the files private, but several news organizations persuaded the Oregon Supreme Court to order their release.

For decades, the Boy Scouts of America kept detailed files on volunteers who left the group because of accusations of child sex abuse or other misconduct. Victims' attorneys have referred to the documents as "perversion files," and have accused the Scouts of failing for years to put measures in place to prevent abuse.

The Boy Scouts of America has argued it compiled the records to prevent the return of people who had been kicked out of the group for child sex abuse. The group has said the effort helped protect children from abusers. However, in about one-third of the cases released in 2012, the Boy Scouts did not report the allegations to police, according to a statement from the Boy Scouts of America in 2012.

Inside the files

Opalinski left the Boy Scouts in 1971 after he was arrested for sexually abusing a 14-year-old boy, according to a nine-page file kept by the Boy Scouts of America.

The file included a news report by the St. Paul Dispatch, which said Opalinski had pleaded guilty in 1971 to a charge of "indecent liberties involving a 14-year-old boy" and had received seven years' probation.

It also included several letters between national and local Boy Scouts officials about the criminal case.

In an Aug. 11, 1971, letter, a local Boy Scouts director told the national office that Opalinski had been arrested for alleged child sex abuse and had been removed from the Scouts.

"According to the County Attorney, who is also one of our Council Vice Presidents, the evidence against this man is quite overwhelming and we have taken steps to eliminate him from all Scouting connections in this Council, and respectfully request that his name be placed in the Confidential Files in the National Office," Frank Specht, field service director at the Indianhead Council, wrote.

(The Indianhead Council later merged with another local Boy Scout group to become the Northern Star Council.)

In response, the national Boy Scouts office requested more information, and Specht provided a copy of the court proceedings in which Opalinski pleaded guilty.

In a Dec. 2, 1971, letter, National Boy Scouts supervisor Paul Ernst thanked Specht for providing the court record. "This additional information is most helpful for future reference and it would certainly strengthen our position in refusing to accept other applications for registration we might receive from the individual," Ernst wrote.

The file ends in 1971. It does not include any request by Opalinski to rejoin the Boy Scouts.

Opalinski later worked as a restaurant chef and provided dietary services to nursing care centers, according to his obituary.