By Ashley Loza
Kern Valley Sun
Editor’s Note: This story has been edited from an earlier version to clarify that the man was approved as a volunteer member rather than an employee. It has also been edited to reflect that the decision to disband was not made by Pounds, but the charter organization. A clarification by Pounds that the supplies are still in the charter organization’s Scout shed was also added, and the charges of the church’s youth group leader have been updated.
Kern Valley’s Boy Scout Troop 690 disbanded on Friday, Dec. 1, after more than 60 years in the valley.
The decision came after troop leaders and the Southern Sierra Council of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) approved the volunteer certification of a registered sex offender and failed to disclose his history to parents.
Scoutmaster Ed Pounds stated that in order to avoid attacks to the character of Scout leaders or the First Baptist Church, the Scouts’ charter organization, he and three other leaders had stepped down. Without volunteer replacements, First Baptist made the decision to disband.
The decision came to light after one Scout parent, Mary Deusenberry, discovered that her 13-year-old son had been taken home from a meeting by the Assistant Scoutmaster and accompanied by the man who had a criminal record.
Deusenberry, ran a quick check online and found the man on California’s Megan’s Law list with a conviction of “lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14 years of age.”
Worried and upset, she called Pounds with her concern and was told that the man had been approved for membership by BSA.
Unsatisfied, Deusenberry contacted Southern Sierra Council, who reran the man’s background check and found that he had been “red-flagged” in July. Pounds said that after the man was approved in March, he had never been informed of any changes to his status. In conjunction with the Council, Pounds removed the man as an adult member.
However, the removal of the man did not answer what was on the mind of parents – why had this been possible?
BSA’s Youth Protection policy includes a “five point strategy” to avoiding child abuse within its ranks, the second of which is “establishing leader-selection procedures to prevent offenders from entering the BSA leadership ranks.”
“Nothing is more important than the safety of our youth members. As part of our comprehensive policies and procedures to protect youth, we conduct multiple background checks, including criminal background checks, for our volunteers,” said Jesse Lopez, Scout Executive and CEO of Southern Sierra Council.
Yet, in this case, an oversight had occurred.
Pounds, who had been involved with troop 690 for many years, said that the man, a relative of one of the Scout leaders, had initially approached the Scouts in December of 2016 to become an adult volunteer and had told them about his record. He told them that he had served 8 years of a 15-year sentence and had been let go after the accuser admitted to lying. Pounds said that he and the Assistant Scoutmaster initially did nothing to move on the request.
When he approached the subject again in February of 2017, Scout leaders asked him to produce paperwork showing that he had been exonerated. In the meantime, according to Pounds, the Scout leaders agreed to allow the man to fill out an application and informed him that if his background check returned with any adverse information, his membership would not be approved.
The following month, Pounds said he received a membership card and a letter letting him know that the man had been approved. He assumed that the proper paperwork had been produced to Southern Sierra Council and moved forward. The man was placed in the committee member position of advancement chair, where his duties consisted primarily of computer input. Pounds said he had no contact with any members of the troop during this time.
It was not until October 2, he said, that the man attended an adult and youth leader meeting and was present as Deusenberry’s son was given a ride home.
In response to Deusenberry’s persistence, Pounds sent an email to parents disclosing how the man had been approved and promptly removed when his background check had been re-run. He asked that any questions about the incident be emailed to him privately.
This was the first that other parents heard of the incident, said Cassi Smith, parent of two Scouts in the troop.
“I was kind of confused as to why it would be sent as an email to me; I would’ve thought it would be deserving of a phone call, considering the extent of it,” said Smith.
Smith said she did not see the benefit to replying privately, since this was a group concern. She said that after she replied to Pounds and the other parents as a group, more parents backed the idea of holding a meeting.
When a meeting was held, Pounds said he called it off because of Deusenberry.
“[She] became agitated and aggressive in her speech during the meeting, and I called the meeting off and sent everyone home,” said Pounds.
But Smith says that she felt that Deusenberry’s reaction to the situation had been justified, as her son had been in contact with the man.
Deusenberry’s agitation was not without reason. As a child, she had been involved in Rainbow for Girls and was raped by a family member who was involved in the Masonic Lodge. When the assault came to light, Deusenberry said that the Lodge’s then-leaders had not supported her, and both Rainbow and DeMolay were disbanded shortly thereafter.
Her mother, local real estate agent Rita D’Angelo, lamented the family’s experience.
“It was a very, very hard time. We went through a lot at that point,” said D’Angelo. “They were pretty hateful.”
“This isn’t a joke; this is a serious thing,” she continued. “If I failed to disclose something in a real estate transaction, if I failed to point out to a buyer that they have this right to go to this website and look for a sex offender in their area, I can be brought up on charges. Failure to disclose is one of the primary things that gets real estate agents into court. I think it’s common courtesy. I think it’s a moral obligation,” she said.
Deusenberry was concerned that a lack of accountability among organizations like BSA and First Baptist Church will not only cause children to lose out on the experiences they offer, but, more importantly, continue to put them in potential danger.
Last year, a youth group leader with First Baptist had been charged with engaging in lewd conduct with minors. The leader was arrested and placed on probation and removed from his duties working with youth at the church, but Deusenberry is concerned that the accusations within some organizations are, too often, kept quiet.
“Awareness needs to take place on this. I could care less what they think of me, but they need to be brought to the forefront. They need to be held accountable,” said Deusenberry. “They sweep it under the carpet, and they keep it hush-hush.”
Deusenberry is not alone in this; in 2012, Oregon law firm Crew Janci LLP released internal Boy Scout files on 1,247 volunteers who had been suspected of child abuse from 1965 to 1985. The release resulted in more than one multi-million dollar lawsuit in 2017 against BSA by men who had been abused by volunteers.
And Smith is concerned that even without contact with other Scouts, the man had been given access by local troop leaders to personal information about their children.
“As a leader, you have access to the children’s private information, which means that this person had access to all of our child’s private information: where they live, how old they are, what their likes and dislikes are. Basically, anything and everything that is perfectly suited for a predator to want to have. And that was one of the things that set me off,” said Smith.
Her husband, who asked to remain anonymous, was also upset with the mistake.
“I personally notified all my coworkers that have kids that participate in BSA of this incident to spread awareness. I think that all the BSA Councils, both local and nationwide, should be notified of this incident to prevent this from happening again,” said Smith’s husband.
In the face of the troop’s disbandment, Deusenberry has done what she can to keep the Scouts together under a new charter organization – the Elks Lodge in Wofford Heights.
“The Southern Sierra Council is pleased to have identified a new chartered organization that will allow our youth members to continue their participation in Scouting with no disruption in services,” said Lopez.
It hasn’t been without a struggle, however. Deusenberry says that First Baptist Church informed her that the new troop will not be able to use the number 690, a disappointment for her son, whose handed-down Scout paraphernalia is emblazoned with the old number that represented the valley for so many decades. And when Deusenberry asked if the Scouts would be able to keep supplies donated to them after their supply trailer was robbed last winter, she was told that the church had given them away. Pounds later clarified that while the fate of the supplies does lie with the charter organization, they are still safe in the Scout shed at the charter organization.
“Every single one of those boys that were left hanging for their Eagle Scouts and were left scrambling for other troops is his victim,” said Deusenberry.
Smith and her husband were not concerned with using the troop’s old number, as they felt that it might hold a negative association.
“I think with new leadership and a new sponsor that any bad reputation associated with troop 690 should stay with that number,” said Smith’s husband.
But all parents agreed that any supplies donated to the troop by local community members and businesses should have stayed with the troop.
Southern Sierra Council declined to comment on the fate of the troop’s supplies.
The parents’ outlook on continuing to be involved with BSA is tentatively hopeful, although they agree that their involvement would be contingent upon entirely new local leaders.
Deusenberry wants her son to be able to hold his head high and continue the Eagle rank he was working on, the highest Boy Scout rank attainable, with his new troop. She is hopeful that the cracks in the system can be rectified.
“Hopefully, they figure out how to change some policies,” she said. “Figure out how to deal with this stuff because it’s very real, and it’s very prevalent.”
Smith is cautious. “I think that’s the million dollar question,” she said.
While she believes that BSA has been good for her sons, she feels that the local infraction that could have potentially harmed them is unacceptable.
“The second I found out who it was, I punched in the name into Megan’s Law, and I found it in two seconds. And I’m just a parent. I’m not a national organization; I’m not somebody who gets paid to make sure that this is taken care of,” said Smith. “It could have hurt them (the children) in a way you can’t get back.”
“I think a lot of good can come from the Scouts,” she continued. “I just don’t know right now. It just depends; it’s still fresh…I don’t want to rob my kids of that experience because it’s not their fault.”
Smith’s husband says that while he is now more aware of BSA’s flaws and has learned that he needs to take a more proactive role in his children’s safety, he would still love to have his boys involved with the organization.
“BSA has been part of my life since I was 7 years old. I still think BSA is one of the best organizations you can get your kids involved in.”
Overall, Deusenberry’s biggest concern is that all leaders are held accountable without leaving the boys in the troop in a lurch.
“I’m sorry for the boys,” she said. “That is the part that just makes me absolutely sick.”
Deusenberry also encourages anyone who has been witness to or victim of a crime to use VictimConnect, a live anonymous referral and support service through the United States Office for Victims of Crime. VictimConnect can be reached at 1-855-4VICTIM and has multiple branches that deal with topics such as child abuse, domestic violence and human trafficking. (A full list of hotlines can be found at https://www.ovc.gov/help/tollfree.html.)
The “Be Prepared” Boy Scout motto applies to Deusenberry’s entire outlook.
“I’ve been told that I’m overprotective. Well, I’d rather be that than neglectful,” she said.