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Army doctor sues Boy Scouts alleging abuse

Jun. 12, 2013 - 03:54PM   |  
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SAN DIEGO — An Army doctor filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Boy Scouts of America and its affiliates, alleging he was abused as a teenager by his troop's leader who had known proclivities toward child molestation.

Drew Belnap filed the lawsuit in San Diego Superior Court claiming his scoutmaster, John Atwood, repeatedly molested him in the summer of 1991 in Warner Springs at a camp operated by the organization's Orange County council.

Belnap said Boy Scout officials knew of the problem and failed to inform police. After Belnap's father reported it, Atwood was convicted of abusing Belnap and two other scouts in 1992.

The Associated Press does not typically name people who say they were sexually abused. However, Belnap said he filed the suit to hold the organization accountable for the harm it did to him and keep public attention on the issue.

Belnap today is a scoutmaster with a troop connected to his Mormon church. He said he does not believe BSA's leaders are doing enough to prevent such abuse from happening again.

The case is the latest in a string of sexual abuse lawsuits that have been brought against BSA or its affiliates.

BSA spokesman Deron Smith said the organization extends its "deepest sympathy to all victims of abuse and to their families."

He said protecting youth is paramount to BSA.

"Recognizing that this commitment requires sustained vigilance, the BSA has continued to develop and enhance its efforts to protect youth, regularly consulting with experts from law enforcement, child safety, psychology, and other disciplines to ensure its efforts consistently evolve along with the ever-changing awareness of the dangers and challenges facing youth," Smith said. "The BSA requires background checks, comprehensive training programs for volunteers, staff, youth and parents and mandates reporting of even suspected abuse."

Belnap's lawyer, Irwin Zalkin said his client was able to bring this case at this time despite the limits of the California statute of limitations, because as a military member he can exercise the Service Members Civil Relief Act, which stops the running of any state statute of limitations while the person is on active duty.

"Drew suffered horrendous abuse, all the more tragic because it was so easily preventable," Zalkin said.

It is the second time Zalkin has filed a civil lawsuit under the law.

In January, Coast Guard veteran Mark Dietrich, 49, filed the lawsuit in Solano County Superior Court claiming the scoutmaster of his Vacaville-based troop frequently molested him between 1978 and 1981.

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