By Bay City News Service
A man who said he was molested for years by his Boy Scout troop leader in Vacaville in the late 1970s and 1980s sued the Boy Scouts of America today for their alleged failure to report the abuse.
Attorneys filed the suit in Solano County Superior Court today on behalf of Mark Dietrich, 49, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran who alleges that Vacaville Troop 180 Scoutmaster Gary Hatfield sexually abused him for four years starting when he was 14 years old and that troop leaders and national BSA officials learned of the abuse and covered it up.
The suit names as defendants the BSA, Hatfield and the local Scouting council overseeing Troop 180, as well as unnamed individuals and groups that "joined in and conspired with the other wrongdoers."
"Mark Dietrich is the perfect example, and yet another example, of what happens when an institution puts its reputation and its concern for its reputation before the protection of children entrusted to its care," Dietrich's attorney Irwin Zalkin said at a news conference in San Francisco today.
Dietrich was 14 years old and had spent two years in a local Scout troop when he decided to approach Hatfield about joining Troop 180, which was known for organizing fun activities for its members, Zalkin said.
During his first meeting with Hatfield at the man's Vacaville trailer home, Hatfield allegedly began grooming Dietrich, coaxing the teen into stripping naked to prepare him for a supposed survival situation in the woods, according to the attorney.
Zalkin said that encounter was only the beginning of four years of "aggressive sexual abuse."
In addition, the attorney said, at least one other troop leader and even members of the national BSA organization were aware that Hatfield "was a known perpetrator" against boys, yet chose not to report his crimes and allowed him to continue to abuse multiple boys.
Zalkin said that at least three other victims of Hatfield's sexual abuse have been identified.
"We believe the evidence in this case is going to show that that knowledge went all the way to the top," he said.
Dietrich said today that he struggled for years with feelings of shame before coming forward to file a criminal complaint against Hatfield in 1992.
Then in his late 20s, Dietrich was told that the statute of limitations to prosecute Hatfield had expired. According to Zalkin, police contacted Dietrich as a witness in 1997 in another criminal sex abuse case against Hatfield.
His civil claim filed today was possible in part due to the Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act -- a federal law that makes the statute of limitations for his claims inoperable during his 25 years of military service.
The knowledge that there are other scouts who have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of troop leaders was a large part of what spurred Dietrich to come forward publicly and to demand accountability for what happened to him.
"My message is that you are not alone -- this is not your fault," he said. "It's okay to talk about it and you have nothing to be ashamed of."
He said the release late last year of some 20,000 pages of BSA documents related to alleged instances of sexual abuse by more than 1,200 perpetrators within the organization also prompted him to take action.
BSA Public Relations Director Deron Smith said in a statement that while the organization can't comment on active litigation, "the abuse of anyone, especially a child, is intolerable and we extend our deepest sympathies to anyone who may be a victim of this type of behavior. The Boy Scouts of America takes the protection of youth very seriously, which is why we have continuously enhanced our multi-tiered policies and procedures."
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