The arrest of a former Keswick Boy Scout leader last week for forcible sodomy of a young boy has brought a national scandal over sexual misconduct in the organization to Charlottesville.
Albemarle County Police arrested David Brian Watkins, 49, on November 28, charging him with assaulting a boy in his Scout troop, Troop 1028, in 2005. Authorities suspect that other incidents occurred between 2002 and 2008. Watkins, the CEO and owner of Watkins Computer Services on Market Street, waived his bond request and is being held at the Charlottesville-Albemarle Regional Jail until his preliminary hearing on December 17.
The alleged victim, under age 13 at the time of the assault but now an adult, came forward the day before Thanksgiving, police said. Shortly after the arrest, the Boy Scouts of America’s Stonewall Jackson Area Council released a prepared statement:
“The abuse of anyone, especially a child, is intolerable and our thoughts and prayers go out to anyone who may be a victim of this type of behavior. The behavior included in these allegations runs counter to everything for which the Boy Scouts of America stands.”
According to local Boy Scouts spokesperson Michael Hesbach, the council permanently suspended Watkins from Scouting in June, after receiving allegations of Watkins having inappropriate behavior outside of the Scouting program. Hesbach said the Charlottesville Police Department conducted an investigation and did not find enough evidence to arrest Watkins. BSA added Watkins to its Ineligible Volunteer files, and banned him from any future involvement with the organization.
“We reported it. They couldn’t arrest him, so we kicked him out,” Hesbach said.
Kelly Clark, the Portland attorney at the center of a 2010 case involving a Scout leader who sexually abused at least 23 Boy Scouts, said the the Watkins case is indicative of a national crisis.
“This says two things about Boy Scouts,” Clark said. “First, there is a serious problem with child abuse in Scouting. Second, a lot of organizations [like Boy Scouts] put their own interests ahead of the interests of the kids.”
When Clark represented six plaintiffs who were sexually abused by the Portland leader Kerry Lewis, he said the jury saw the extent and scope of the abuse problem in the organization, and the Ineligible Volunteer files came into light. The files list thousands of men who have been banned from BSA for reasons including suspected sexual misconduct with boys. Currently the 1965-1985 files are available, and a court in Texas requested the files from 1986-2011. Boy Scouts filed an appeal to stay the order requiring them to produce the files, and according to national Boy Scouts spokesman Deron Smith, the court of appeals granted the stay last week, and the files do not have to be produced.
“The BSA maintains the confidentiality of the IV files because it believes people are more likely to come forward to report misconduct if they can do so confidentially,” Smith said.
Because the current files are unavailable, Clark said parents have no way of knowing if Watkins—or any other volunteer—was or is on that list.
The Boy Scouts implement a two-deep policy, which says two adults must be present around the Scouts at all times, and a child will never be left alone with one adult, male or female. Clark said it may be time for BSA to reevaluate its policies regarding children’s safety.
“Either the policies aren’t effective, or they’re effective but not consistently implemented,” he said.
The reports do not indicate whether the alleged victim was assaulted during a Scouting event, but Clark said it doesn’t matter.
“Boy Scouts have a culture of trust. If the plaintiff could prove that the trust he had for the perpetrator was linked to the Scouts, and if the troop had violated BSA policies in allowing the Scoutmaster to spend time alone with the boy,” he said, the organization is still liable.
Deron Smith said the organization doesn’t take that trust lightly.
“We fully recognize the responsibility we have when parents entrust the development and safety of their children to Scouting,” he said. “We take that very seriously.”
The good news, according to Hesbach, is that the Stonewall Jackson Area Council did the right thing.
“We did follow the procedure,” he said. “We did good.”
Parents with children in Watkins’ troop directed questions to Hebach. Charlottesville resident Colleen Tuite, who has three young boys in another Scout troop, spoke in support of the organization.
Tuite has seven children, three of whom are under the age of 13 and involved in Cub Scouts. She said their experience in the organization has been overwhelmingly positive, and the arrest of Watkins does not affect her view of BSA or give her any reason to worry about sending her boys to Scouts.
“It’s been great having men as role models in addition to their dad,” she said. “Everybody of course worships their own father, but they need to be around other men that are caring and kind.”
When Tuite enrolled her kids in the program, she said the leaders emphasized the importance of the two-deep policy and mandatory youth protection training for volunteers.
Police have not stated whether the incident occurred during a meeting or event, which Tuite believes is essential information for further investigation.
“If this happened during a Scouting event, I think that whole two-deep thing needs to be examined,” she said. “But if not, I say that it honestly has nothing to do with Boy Scouts.”