Army doctor sues Boy Scouts for sexual abuse

SAN DIEGO — An Army doctor who was sexually abused as a teenager by a scoutmaster in San Diego County  sued the Boy Scouts of America Wednesday, alleging negligence.

In the suit, filed in Superior Court in Vista, Army Maj. Drew Belnap said he was plied with alcohol, then sexually assaulted by Scoutmaster John Atwood in 1991 while Belnap was attending Schoepe Scout Reservation at Lost Valley in Warner Springs. The camp is operated by the Orange County Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Belnap was 15 when he met Atwood in 1989.

Atwood — a popular Scout leader — was convicted of multiple sexual abuse offenses in 1992 — including the attack on Belnap — and is now a registered sex offender.

“Drew suffered horrendous abuse, all the more tragic because it was so easily preventable,” said Irwin Zalkin, the lead attorney for Belnap. “Cases like his, and the lessons we learn from them, are critical to holding accountable the institutions that we trust to care for our children.”

The Boy Scouts of America issued a statement regarding Belnap’s lawsuit.

“Scouting extends its deepest sympathies to all victims of abuse and to their families,” the statement read.”Youth protection is of paramount importance to the Boy Scouts of America. 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.

“The BSA requires background checks, comprehensive training programs for volunteers, staff, youth and parents and mandates reporting of even suspected abuse.”

As an active member of the military, Belnap, now 39, was able to file the lawsuit despite the California statute of limitations because federal law stops the running of any state statute of limitations for the period of time that a person is active duty.

Belnap is currently a Boy Scout Scoutmaster with a troop connected to the Mormon Church.

He said he brought the negligence lawsuit against the Boy Scouts to ensure that what happened to him can never happen to other children today. Belnap said he wants to make sure that the suit will compel the Boy Scouts to take seriously necessary policy changes to protect children from sexual abuse by predators attracted to scouting as a means of gaining access to their prey.

According to the plaintiff, alcohol was available to underage scouts in the early 1990s at Lost Valley, and boys and men would shower naked together in open communal showers and spend time drinking and alone together in the ranger’s cabin and other sleeping facilities.

Despite a 1987 Boy Scout rule that there was to be no one-on-one alone time between a scout and an adult scout leader, witnesses observed Atwood leaving camping activities alone with a young scout to spend long stretches in the woods or in a cabin. At least one scout leader was sexually assaulted by Atwood years prior to his abuse of Belnap and two other boys in 1991, the plaintiff said.