It’s become a familiar narrative: Respected community leader, active in the Boy Scouts, accused of sexual abuse but shielded for decades from prosecution and exposure.
Ernest Boland, whose predatory behavior was detailed in so-called “perversion files” that the Boy Scouts of America maintained for decades to identify volunteers accused of child molestation, was named in a lawsuit filed this week by two former Scouts who say they were among his many victims. Filed in Athens-Clarke County Superior Court, the suit comes with a little more than a month remaining on a special provision that extended the statute of limitations in Georgia for childhood victims of sexual abuse seeking damages.
The plaintiffs, whose names are being withheld by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution because they were victims of sexual assault, allege the Boy Scouts of America and its Northeast Georgia Council knew of the accusations against Boland dating back to 1961 — several years before they were abused — but did nothing to stop him.
Two Athens churches named as co-defendants — Green Acres Baptist and Beech Haven Baptist — were also aware of the accusations, the suit alleges, but “undertook no actions to protect minor Scouts from Boland’s sexual predations or provide information to the general public.”
“(Boland) is certainly one of the biggest alleged offenders listed in the perversion files,” said attorney Darren Penn, who represents the two men suing the former Athens scoutmaster. “One of the things we want to address in this suit is this culture of secrecy within the Scouts that continues to this day.”
According to the Boy Scouts file, Boland, who died in 2013, molested a dozen or more scouts and other boys between the 1950s and the 1970s. Some of his victims reported what happened but prominent adults in Athens kept their stories under wraps while Boland allegedly continued to court more victims.
“The BSA is outraged there have been times when Scouts were abused and we sincerely apologize to victims and their families,” Northeast Georgia Council CEO Trip Selman said in a statement. “Nothing is more important than the safety of our youth members.”
“In the more than 40 years since these alleged actions occurred, we have continued to strengthen our efforts to protect youth,” the statement continued. “We seek to prevent child abuse through comprehensive policies and procedures to serve as barriers to abuse.”
The case against Boland is eerily similar to one brought last year against one of his proteges, former Gainesville scoutmaster Fleming Weaver, who admitted in 1982 to leaders of the church that sponsored his troop that he had molested several Scouts. Weaver was forced out as scoutmaster of Gainesville’s Troop 26 but his misdeeds were not reported to law enforcement and he remained active with the Scouts.
Three years later, a lawsuit filed in 2016 alleges, he molested another Scout while volunteering at a Boy Scout campground at Rainey Mountain in Clayton. The two men suing Boland say they were molested at that same camp.
Weaver was Boland’s assistant scoutmaster in the early 1960s and remained friendly with his mentor even after both men were expelled from the Scouts. After Boland died, Weaver made a donation in his name to Thornwell Home for Children, records from the Clinton, S.C., orphanage show.
Boland lived there, serving as a house parent to seven boys, after his retirement. The Boy Scouts had severed ties with him in the late 1970s after receiving the third of three complaints against him in five years. But even then, there seemed to be little concern for his victims.
“In those days, this was a no-no in terms of publicizing it,” the Rev. James Griffith, Boland’s former pastor, told The AJC in 2012. “It was suspected, but there was not much done about it.”
No one at his church, Griffith said, discussed reporting Boland to the police or even informing the parents of his victims.
The men suing Boland say they were just 12 years old when the abuse started. The victims belonged to Troops 2 and 3, both led by the former full colonel in the Army Reserve.
Scout officials in Athens began investigating Boland in the early 1970s after they were approached by the father of a former scout from Troop 22, one of three troops where Boland served as scoutmaster. From 1961 to 1963, the father said, “Boland had forced his son to perform oral sex acts with Boland acting as the male figure,” according to the scouts’ report. The father said his son revealed the abuse several years later during psychiatric treatment.
The plaintiffs in the just-filed suit said the abuse occurred for one during the summer of 1968 and, for the other, from 1975 to 1979.
All the while suspicions trailed Boland but he deftly gamed the system. By the time the first complaints against him emerged, he had organized another troop and installed himself as its scoutmaster.
When he learned that some of the parents from the new troop were going to ask him to resign, he quit.
“There was strong evidence that Boland had been involved with several scouts,” a Boy Scouts investigation found. “However, in all cases, it was his word against another individual.”
According to Boland’s file, it was agreed the “best course” would be to “suspend any further action.”
But Boland persisted, and, according to his file, he finally asked Scout executive Ron Hegwood if he could be prevented from becoming a scoutmaster again. Hegwoodsaid no and Troop 3, based at Beech Haven Baptist Church, was born.
It was there he met one of his final victims from his years with the Scouts. The man, now 53, told his story to Guernica magazine in 2016. He said he was gay, but deeply closeted, when he met Boland. That made him something of a loner and, he said, he believes Boland seized on his vulnerability.
The abuse continued even after Boland resigned from the Scouts in 1977, saying he had neglected his pest control business for too long and was losing profits. The man now suing him was brought on as his intern until Boland, at his wife’s insistence, fired him in 1979.
Periods of drug use and depression followed, the man told Guernica. Recovery was a struggle, he said. One friend, another of Boland’s alleged victims, drank himself to death, he said.
In 2012 he contemplated suicide.
“I found myself holding a gun in my hands,” he told the magazine. “I was done. I was tired of winding up back here over and over again. I put the gun away and I found a therapist.”
At that same time Boland was nearing the end of his life. But his interest in the Boy Scouts had not waned. On the day he died, February 7, 2013, he shared a petition calling for the resignation of an executive board member for attempting to “bully the (Boy Scouts of America) into gay assimilation.”