Boy Scouts not responsible for scoutmaster’s sex abuse of teen, lawyers argue

Pioneer Press: The Boy Scouts were not responsible for protecting a teenage Scout from abuse by a leader and claims against the organization should be dismissed, defendants in a Ramsey County lawsuit argued Tuesday.

Attorneys for the Boy Scouts of America, its Northern Star Council regional group and the River Hills United Methodist Church of Burnsville, the troop sponsor, argued that the alleged abuse of John Doe 180 by Peter Stibal did not stem from violations of Boy Scout policies and could not have been foreseen.

Stibal was sentenced in 2011 to 21 years in prison for the sexual abuse of four Scouts. John Doe 180 was one of that group.

Stephen Plunkett, attorney for the church, told Ramsey County District Judge Elena Ostby that it could not be held liable for conduct by a volunteer troop leader in an activity that it did not sponsor and that occurred off its premises.

The contact between Stibal, now 48, occurred on Boy Scout camping trips in 2008, the lawsuit alleged.

“River Hills was basically providing a room for Monday night meetings,” Plunkett said.

The church and the Boy Scouts also argued that they could not have foreseen Stibal’s criminal activity.

When Stibal applied to be a Scoutmaster, “all appropriate things were done,” said Louise Behrendt, attorney for the Boy Scouts of America and the Northern Star Council. “Nothing about his application suggested he had done anything (previously)” or would in the future,” she said. His criminal background
check came back clean.

Furthermore, neither the national organization nor the Northern Star Council had “specific involvement in any particular camping event,” Behrendt said.

Jeff Anderson, attorney for the plaintiff, said that prior to and simultaneous with the abuse of John Doe 180, Stibal had violated scouting rules involving other children.

For example, he had spent the night alone in a tent with a child, he said. Stibal admitted the violation (though not abuse of the child) but was allowed to remain a leader, Anderson said. In another violation, he was seen by another adult holding a child’s hand, leading him into a tent.

The Boy Scouts prohibit one-on-one contact between leaders and Scouts unless it is in plain view of others.

He was also seen giving “wedgies” and engaging in tickling, pillow fights and wrestling with boys, Anderson said.

Plunkett argued that the instances in which Stibal was alone in a tent with a boy occurred when, in one case, a boy became terrified after a ghost story. Stibal gave him a backrub to calm him down, then let him stay there because he was still distraught. In another case, a boy needed first aid for an injury.

“There’s no evidence that Mr. Stibal had touched inappropriately any boys before the contact with the plaintiff in this case,” Plunkett said. “Therefore there was no foreseeability.”

Anderson countered that abuse was foreseeable, in part because of the Boy Scouts’ history of sexual abuse within its ranks. Its rules and training in the area attest to that knowledge, he said.

If the Boy Scouts had heeded the warning signs and rule violations by Stibal, “we wouldn’t be here,” Anderson said.

In January, the judge ordered the handover of confidential national Boy Scout records on sexual abuse from 1999 to 2008. The records, referred to as the “ineligible volunteer” files or “perversion files,” as they were called internally, include names of people suspected of abusing children.

The judge said she would make her decision within 90 days.

Emily Gurnon can be reached at 651-228-5522. Follow her at