- Christian Boone The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A former Gainesville scoutmaster, who has already confessed to sexually abusing at least “five or six boys,” has been accused of molesting other children in troops he led in Alabama and Georgia, court documents reveal.
The new allegations came to light as part of a lawsuit filed against Fleming Weaver by a scout he is accused of raping more than three decades ago.
Last year, an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution uncovered the secret life of Weaver, who, in 1982, was forced to resign as leader of Troop 26, sponsored by Gainesville’s First Baptist Church, after the father of one of his victims reported the abuse to the church’s pastor.
The accusations were kept quiet, however, and Weaver, now 83, continued his involvement with the Scouts, working with the Order of the Arrow where, in 1985, he allegedly raped a Gainesville teen-ager, Robb Lawson.
Taking advantage of legislation temporarily extending the statute of limitations in Georgia for childhood victims of sexual abuse seeking damages, Lawson filed a lawsuit in March 2016 against Weaver, the Boy Scouts, First Baptist, the church’s former pastor, Steve Brown and the estate of Gene Bobo, a former church member and Scout executive. The defendants have moved to dismiss the suit, citing Lawson’s 31-year silence before coming forward.
As they await a ruling from Cobb County Superior Court Judge C. LaTain Kell, the case continues to move forward. The Boy Scouts have resisted efforts by Lawson’s attorneys to produce Weaver’s volunteer file but acknowledged, in response to the plaintiff’s request, that it has “since acquired knowledge that Weaver has been accused of sexually abusing Scouts from other troops from a time period prior to his appointment as Troop 26 Scout Leader” in 1969.
How and when the Scouts became aware of those allegations are of particular interest to Weaver’s victims in Troop 26. In a statement sent to The AJC last year the Boy Scouts said they first learned of Weaver’s sexual misconduct in 1995.
Trip Selman, CEO of the Northeast Georgia Council Boy Scouts of America, called the behavior by Weaver outlined in the allegations “abhorrent.”
“Nothing is more important than the safety of our youth members. The BSA is outraged there have been times when Scouts were abused and we sincerely apologize to victims and their families,” Selman said in a statement.
But some weren’t having it.
“They’re morally culpable to everyone who was harmed by him,” said Tim Black, the first of Weaver’s victims in Troop 26 to come forward. “They’re circling the wagons and protecting an organization over an individual. Scouts are held to a higher standard.”
Weaver’s association with the Boy Scouts began in the 1950s with Troop 22 in Athens, where he attended college. There, he worked under Ernest Boland who, according to a confidential Boy Scout file, molested a dozen or more scouts and other boys between the ’50s and the 1970s. Even though some of the boys reported the abuse, the file shows, prominent adults in Athens failed to act, tacitly giving Boland the opportunity to continue preying on children.
Weaver and Boland remained close, even after Weaver moved to Alabama in 1963 to take a job as personnel manager for Anniston Manufacturing. A year later, he became Scoutmaster of Troop 8.
Ron Allen, an Anniston attorney and an Eagle Scout during Weaver’s tenure, remembered going on a joint camp out with Troop 22 soon after his arrival.
Weaver routinely shared his tent with senior patrol leaders in an area set apart from the other Scouts, Allen said in 2016 interview. Weaver’s Gainesville victims said he preyed on patrol leaders because the position required time alone with the Scoutmaster.
Allen said he knows of no victims in the Anniston troop but realizes it’s unlikely any would come forward at that time, in that place.
“If it happened over here it was kept quiet,” he said.
The Alabama Boy Scouts won’t say whether Weaver was ever investigated while leading the Anniston troop. Even if they did have a file on him they said they wouldn’t release it unless a victim came forward.
In their response to Lawson’s attorneys, the Boy Scouts do not specify where the pre-1969 complaints against Weaver originated.
The Northeast Georgia Council of the Boy Scouts of America does have a file on Weaver — briefly the scoutmaster with Troop 16, sponsored by Gainesville First United Methodist Church before switching to Troop 26 — but declined requests by The AJC to review it. They agreed to give Lawson’s attorneys access to the file only if they sign a confidentiality agreement that would keep Weaver’s conduct private.
“Incredibly, the Boy Scouts are requesting plaintiff participate in the very cover-up that formed the basis for the lawsuit,” Lawson’s lawyers wrote in a motion to compel filed Friday.
The judge could force them to turn it over without stipulations, said plaintiff co-counsel Natalie Woodward.
In its response to Lawson’s suit, the Scouts “expressly (deny) the allegations that it participated in a ‘cover-up of the abuse.’ ”
First Baptist’s lawyers went further, stating in court filings that the suit was “inflammatory and appears to have been carefully framed to garner media attention.”
Weaver was the subject of a criminal investigation in 1994 after one of his victims, Jim Lloyd, told authorities he feared his former scoutmaster was still abusing children. Questioned by Hall County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Judy Mecum, Weaver confessed to molesting children — “five or six at least” — while with Troop 26 but insisted he stopped after 1981.
“I said my pledge to the parents and Steve (Brown) that I would get help and that I would not ever involve myself with kids again, and that’s what I’ve done,” Weaver told Mecum. He said that, after about one year of counseling, he understood his “illness” and was dealing with the “consequences” of his actions.
Weaver was never asked whether any of the cases predated his time with the First Baptist troop. No charges were ever filed because the statute of limitations had run out.
Lloyd, whom Weaver confessed to molesting over several years, has dealt with the lingering memories of the abuse he suffered as well as the burden of not being believed . His parents doubted him. So did current First Baptist pastor Bill Coates, who confirmed that Lloyd had told him about Weaver’s abuse. Weaver, a deacon at the time, was removed from that post last year, on Palm Sunday, when The AJC’s article about the case was published.
“What’s worse, (the Boy Scouts) not knowing about it or knowing it and not doing anything about it,” said Lloyd, 60, who still lives in Gainesville. “If there’s that much smoke, there’s usually fire.”