HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Seventeen men and two women are suing the Boy Scouts of America and local chapters in Connecticut, saying a now-dead scoutmaster sexually abused them when they were children in the 1960s and 1970s. The suit alleges that a few of the accusers were assaulted more than 1,000 times.
The lawsuit filed in state court in Stamford last month claims Boy Scout leaders knew or should have known that Ridgefield Scoutmaster Donald Dennis was a danger to the scouts in his troops and did nothing to protect them from sexual abuse. Dennis died two years ago.
Named in the lawsuit are the national Boy Scouts organization and two local affiliates — the Fairfield County Council and the Connecticut Yankee Council.
The Boy Scouts of America said it had no previous knowledge of any problems with Dennis and only recently learned of the allegations.
"We were only made aware of these allegations last month and had never before received any reports or accusations against this individual by youth members, parents or adult volunteer leaders," the statement said.
The Irving, Texas-based organization also said that its efforts to protect children have grown in the decades since the lawsuit says the abuse occurred.
Local scout officials referred questions to the national organization.
The lawsuit, which is more than 850 pages, appears to be the largest lawsuit filed in the country — in terms of the number of plaintiffs — against the Boy Scouts alleging sexual abuse against a Scout leader, said Brooke Goff, a lawyer for the 19 Connecticut plaintiffs.
None of the plaintiffs are named. The lawsuit lists each of them as either John Doe or Jane Doe. Goff said the 17 men were scouts ages 11 to 14 when the abuse occurred from about 1962 to 1975, and the two women were minors at the time. The plaintiffs are in their 50s and early 60s now, she said.
The abuse included anal and oral sex, Goff said. Many of the victims suffered psychological trauma that continues to affect them today, she said. Some developed drug and alcohol problems while trying to cope, and one attempted suicide as a boy, Goff said.
The lawsuit seeks punitive damages, reimbursement of attorneys' fees and any other "relief" the court deems just and proper.
"It's not about money for my clients. It's about preventing this from happening again," Goff said.
The lawsuit was the result of one of the plaintiffs contacting Goff in June, she said. The plaintiffs didn't come forward earlier because Dennise had threatened them, among other reasons, she said. The plaintiff who contacted her began thinking about legal action after secret Boy Scout files containing allegations of sexual abuse within the organization for decades became public in 2012.
Dennis' estate is not a plaintiff in the lawsuit. A phone number for his family couldn't be found Tuesday.
In 2012, the Oregon Supreme Court ordered the Scouts to make public a trove of "perversion" files from 1965 to 1985. The records showed that more than one-third of abuse allegations never were reported to police and that when authorities were told little was done most of the time.
The Boy Scouts has acknowledged mistakes in the way sex abuse allegations were handled in the past, but the organization says it now has a robust child protection program.