A CLOSER LOOK: Former Fort Smith Boy Scout files sexual abuse lawsuit

Local News

ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — Nude photos and oral sex are just some of the improprieties a former Boy Scout said happened between the years of 1999 and 2001 by a Troop 16 Assistant Scoutmaster in Fort Smith, according to a federal court document filed Monday, August 31, 2020.

The 18-page document from the United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas states the plaintiff, who is now an adult and lives in Colorado, “continues to suffer debilitating and severe physical, mental and emotional injury, — including pain and suffering — as well as permanent psychological damage.”

The Westark Area Council (WAC) Incorporated of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is a registered nonprofit in the state Arkansas located in Fort Smith. WAC is named as the defendant in the case.

The abuse cited in the lawsuit happened when the plaintiff, Clifton Colwell, was between the ages of 15 to 16 years old. The document states the role of a Scout Leader was to “educate and mentor.” Instead, the convicted felon, Francis McCort, an inmate at Varner, took the time to gain the plaintiff’s trust, conduct is known as “grooming,” and ultimately sexually abusing the Boy Scout.

Francis Joseph McCourt, 72. Inmate at Varner Unit, in Lincoln County, AR. In 2013, originally sentenced to 35 years for distributing, possessing and viewing child pornography — and about 4 dozen guns in his home. A judgement from North Dakota convicted him of felony stolen property.

The attorneys say the lawsuit meets the statute of limitations for filing. They are requesting a jury trial and seeking punitive damages and other fees. There are eight counts:

  • Sexual Battery of a Child
  • Tort of Outrage
  • Negligent Hiring, Training Supervision/Retention
  • Negligence– Special Relationship
  • Negligence – Failure to Warn
  • Fraud & Constructive Fraud (2x)
  • Malice and/or Reckless Disregard – Punitive Damages

The lawsuit claims the abuse happened at different locations: Erbie Campground and Cavers Camp near Harrison, Arkansas; Fitton Cave on the Buffalo National River; Camp Orr near Jasper, Arkansas, and Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico.

BSA’s RESPONSE TO THE LAWSUIT

First and foremost, we care deeply about all victims of child abuse and sincerely apologize to Mr. Colwell, as well as anyone who was harmed during their time in Scouting. We are outraged that there have been times when individuals took advantage of our programs to abuse innocent children. We believe victims, we support them, and we encourage them to come forward.

The Boy Scouts of America is committed to fulfilling our social and moral responsibility to equitably compensate victims who suffered abuse during their time in Scouting, while also ensuring that we carry out our mission to serve youth, families and local communities for years to come. In order to meet these dual objectives, the national organization filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and our plan is to use this Chapter 11 process to create a Trust that would provide equitable compensation to victims.

The BSA offers to fund counseling for abuse survivors and members of their families by a provider of their choice. In addition, the BSA has partnered with 1in6, a trusted national resource for male survivors, to meaningfully expand its online services so that more individuals who suffered abuse while in Scouting can anonymously access vital support from trained advocates when and how they need it. Victims can access these independent services at 1in6.org/BSA/ .

BSA PERVERSION FILES

As early as 1920, the BSA received information from local Councils about Scouts being sexually abused from adult Scouting volunteers and professionals. The BSA created a file system called “Red Flag” files, today known as “Ineligible Volunteer” files (IV files) or “Volunteer Screening” files. This was/is a way to track alleged abuse by adult Scouts. The IV files were categorized according to the type of offenses committed. The IV files still exist, but “underrepresents” the actual alleged sexual abuse cases. One reason is that the BSA destroyed many of the IV files created before Plaintiff was abused, and many children did not report the abuse.

GREEN & GILLISPIE ATTORNEYS AT LAW

PERVERSION FILES DATA BASE

A database has been compiled between 1947 and 2005 of 5,000 men, some women, who were expelled from the BSA on suspicion of sexual abuse. This was last updated in 2013. Used with permission, per Los Angeles Times Investigative Reporter Kim Christensen.

  • Troop 16/14. Hot Springs, Arkansas. Sam C. Otts. 1977
  • Troop 108. Blytheville, Arkansas. Eugene Huntzicker. 1981
  • Troop 35. Benton, Arkansas. Wright Clifford W. 1987
  • Troop 604. Little Rock, Arkansas. Waverly T. Calamia. 1988
  • Troop 975. Camden, Arkansas. Leonard R. Massey. 1989
  • Pack 36. Bentonville, Arkansas. Joseph A. Agarand. 1990
  • Troop 7. Little Rock, Arkansas. Richard Dale Bryant. 1991
  • Troop 103. Crossett, Arkansas. (2369). 1991
  • Pack 346. Mayflower, Arkansas. (2203). 1991
  • Explorer 160. Lonoke, Arkansas. (4123). 1993
  • Troop 13. Helena, Arkansas. (2870). 1993
  • Troop 144. Hartford, Arkansas. (3141). 1994
  • Troop 777. Rogers Arkansas. (3130). 1995
  • Pack 45. Van Buren, Arkansas. (3142). 1995
  • Troop 99. Paragould, Arkansas. (2871). 1998
  • Troop 300. Crossett, Arkansas. (5029). 2002
  • Troop 67. Monticello, Arkansas. (4910). 2002
  • Troop 67. Monticello, Arkansas (4787). 2002
  • Pack 427. North Little Rock, Arkansas. (3986). 2002
  • Troop 41. Sitka, Arkansas. (3812). 2002
  • Troop 67. Monticello, Arkansas (5027). 2003

In Arkansas, there are 21 BSA organizations listed in the “Perversion Files” database. Of the 21, 14 do not have names attached. This is something that bothers attorney Josh Gillispie, who is representing Colwell. “I often hear the Boy Scouts of America say, ‘we’re on the side of the victim,’” said Gillispie, “if that’s the case then I challenge them to release the names of the additional 14 [alleged] offenders … who are these guys?”

Gillispie said the request to find out who these unnamed people are is to prevent child sexual abuse, something BSA needs to do.

BSA’s COMMITMENT TO YOUTH PROTECTION

We are heartbroken that any child was ever harmed during their time in Scouting. Over many years, we have developed some of the strongest youth protection policies found in any youth-serving organization, which are informed by respected experts in the fields of child safety, law enforcement, and child psychology.

Long before there were smartphones, email, the internet, criminal databases, or other modern methods available to identify or track predators, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) took a vital step to help protect children by creating what is known as the Ineligible Volunteer Files, or the IV Files. The purpose was to ensure that anyone seen as unfit to be a leader—even those not charged or convicted of a crime—would be removed and barred from registering in Scouting programs. While these files have been misrepresented over the years, they are the critical foundation of a modern system that the CDC describes as a best practice to protect youth, as cited in their 2007 report on “Preventing Child Sexual Abuse Within Youth-serving Organization.”

BSA STATEMENT

The BSA’s multi-layered process of safeguards also includes the following measures, all of which act as barriers to abuse:

  • A leadership policy that requires at least two youth-protection trained adults be present with youth at all times.
  • Bans one-on-one situations where adults would have any interaction alone with children – either in person, online, or via text.
  • The thorough screening process for adult leaders and staff including criminal background checks, and the prompt mandatory reporting of any allegation or suspicion of abuse to law enforcement.
  • The BSA also offers a 24/7 Scouts First Helpline (1-844-SCOUTS1) and email (scouts1st@scouting.org) for help reporting suspected abuse or inappropriate behavior.

Here’s more information about the BSA’s youth protection policies, commitment to supporting victims, and efforts to be part of the broader solution to child abuse.

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