Connecticut jury awards $7M in scouts abuse case

WATERBURY, Connecticut (AP) _ A man who says he was sexually abused by a Connecticut scout leader in the mid-1970s won a $7 million jury verdict against the Boy Scouts of America.

Lawyers for the man said the decision handed down Friday in Waterbury Superior Court was the largest verdict for compensatory damages against the Boy Scouts’ national organization. The jury also found the organization liable for punitive damages, with the amount to be determined by a judge.

The man, known only as John Doe in court documents, alleges he was a member of a New Fairfield Boy Scouts troop when its leader, Siegfried Hepp, sexually abused him three times.

Messages seeking comment were left Monday at phone listings for Hepp in New Fairfield and Lady Lake, Florida. He wasn’t a defendant in the lawsuit.

The plaintiff’s lawyers, Paul Slager and Jennifer Cohen Goldstein, said evidence at the trial showed that another boy in the troop accused Hepp of molestation, and that Hepp pleaded guilty in 1999 to unlawful sexual touching of another minor and was a registered sex offender for a decade.

In Friday’s verdict, the jury also cleared the local Connecticut Yankee Council of the Boy Scouts of America, formerly known as the Fairfield County Council of Boy Scouts of America, of any wrongdoing in connection with the alleged sexual abuse.

Officials with the Irving, Texas-based national Boy Scouts organization disagree with the jury’s findings and will be reviewing the decision, said spokesman Deron Smith. He said the scouts now have several measures in place to prevent abuse, including criminal background checks, mandatory reporting of abuse allegations and a comprehensive education program.

“While we can’t comment on the lawsuit, we extend our sympathies to those involved,” Smith said.

Slager and Cohen Goldstein also presented evidence that has been introduced at similar trials across the country alleging that Boy Scouts officials kept confidential files dating back to the 1920s that contained information on alleged pedophiles. Plaintiffs’ lawyers have alleged that Boy Scouts officials knew scouting programs were being targeted by pedophiles, but they took no steps to protect boys or warn local troops, scouts or their families about the dangers.

Slager said it was important to his client that jurors recognized how the abuse affected his life.

“When you represent people who are child victims of sexual abuse, there are no true court victories, only important steps in the survivor’s recovery,” Slager said. “The plaintiff here wanted to show other abuse survivors that they need not keep their own victimization a secret.”