Oregon | The Boy Scouts Files

Boy Scout Files: The Story Of One 'Ineligible Volunteer'

OPB | Nov. 16, 2012 8:52 a.m. | Corvallis, Oregon

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More than 1200 files that Boy Scouts kept on people the group suspected of child abuse were released October 18 under court order.

The so-called “ineligible volunteer” files date between 1965 and 1985.

About two dozen files came from Oregon, slightly more from Washington.

Kristian Foden-Vencil reviews the history contained in one file, involving a scoutmaster from Corvallis — William Elwood Tobiassen.

William Tobiassen was a life insurance agent in Corvallis during the early 1980’s. He was tall, married with four children and in 1984 — after 10 years of scouting — he pleaded guilty to sexual abuse and contributing to the sexual delinquency of a minor.

Retired Benton County Sheriff, Stan Robson, remembers Tobiassen as well liked and well respected within the community - which he says, isn’t unusual for a pedophile.

“They’re the likable person. They’re the neighbor next-door. They’re the teacher, they’re the coach, they’re the pastor, the whomever in the community who are liked. And to accuse someone of that, I don’t know. And Tobiassen was one of those, very well liked in the community by many,”Says Robson.

For example, Tobiassen’s Boy Scout file shows he was on the Board of Directors of the local Campfire Girls. He was on the Benton County Mental Health Advisory Board, and in the Corvallis Chamber of Commerce too.

The then-Benton County District Attorney, Peter Sandrock, even had to hand Tobiassen’s case to another prosecutor, because the scoutmaster had helped Sandrock raise money for a political campaign.

Anyway, Tobiassen’s file shows he started volunteering for Oregon scouts in 1974 — shortly after moving to the area. He climbed the ranks quickly. And by the time a scout told his mother Tobiassen had abused him, Tobiassen had received one of the organization’s highest honors, the Silver Beaver Award.

Sheriff Robson remembers the day he walked into Tobiassen’s office to confront him.

“I said, we need to talk about this. He said, I’ve got an appointment coming in and I really need to have this appointment.  I said, you’re going to give me a few minutes and name off a few of the other boys. And I think he gave me four or five names at that time and identified a couple of others after the fact. But he was just kind of rattling off. One or two I already knew. And so it verified it.”

Tobiassen died in Salem in 1994.

Scouts spokesman, Deron Smith, released a statement saying the organization is unable to comment on specific files, but that the Boy Scouts’ filing system works well to protect children.

Tobiassen’s name was included in the scouts’ “ineligible file” within a week of charges being filed in 1984 — meaning he could no longer volunteer for Troop 186 of the First Christian Church in Corvallis — or any other troop.

But court testimony shows that scout administrators received reports of abuse by Tobiassen years earlier, in 1982.

Harold Nash, an investigator out of Newport, Oregon, dug into Tobiassen’s background for the civil case that followed his guilty plea. Nash found Tobiassen had a history of abusing children stretching back to California and the 1960s.

“When he got out of the military, he ended up working at a school in Grass Valley and he was caught messing around with boys there. But in those days, they just used to sort of tell them to leave town. And I interviewed the former district attorney and that’s what he told me. He said he wasn’t proud of it, but he said, that’s the way things were done,” Nash recalled.

There’s no evidence in the Boy Scout files that Tobiassen’s activity in California was ever reported to scouting administrators in Corvallis.

But when Tobiassen moved to Corvallis in the 70s, he got a job at the Frederick & Nelson clothing store measuring people for clothes. Sheriff Robson says Tobiassen hadn’t changed.

“There were some minor complaints about doing the inseam measurements for young men that wanted a suit or slacks or whatever else. But nobody really made any report.”

While nobody made a report to the police, court papers from the Oregon Court of Appeals show scout employees were informed of the problem.

For example, two years before Tobiassen’s name was put into the files, Corvallis resident Eloise Bass, testified that she told scout administrator Brad Harris that Tobiassen had been fired for sexually abusing a stock boy in the Corvallis store.

That same year, scout mother Theresa Emigh testified that she’d also telephoned Harris to tell him Tobiassen was sexually abusing a boy.

OPB was unsuccessful in attempting to reach Harris.

But he told the court at the time that Bass had approached him only once — and that she was quote: “a gossip and not to be believed.”

With the Emigh allegation, Harris testified that an unidentified caller had told him only that her friend’s son had complained of an inappropriate back rub. In deposition he said that to make the caller feel better, he might have told her that he would investigate.

Bill Barton is the attorney who represented one of the young men Tobiassen abused.

“He discounted them all as being rumors. Well they’re going to stay a rumor unless you investigate them. I thought you had a conflict of interest, because on one hand, you were furthering your own self interest, through turning a blind eye by having more kids join. And if you would have investigated and found out the answer. You would have been indicting yourself as an administrator. So you had every incentive to keep right on staying ignorant.”

Harris was scouting director for the Benton County District.

Jerry Dempsey was further up the ladder at the Oregon Trail Boy Scout Council, as chief executive.

Scout mother, Theresa Emigh, testified in the civil case that she’d also called Dempsey to express her concerns — again, two years before Tobiassen’s name was put in the ineligible files.

She testified that Dempsey took her name and number, and told her the matter would be taken care of — and that she need not contact anyone further.

Dempsey is retired now and living in Eugene. He did not return several phone calls from OPB.

But in court, Dempsey testified he never got Emigh’s phone call.

Her phone records at the time documented a one-minute call to the Oregon Trail Council.

Court documents from the civil trial show Dempsey recalled receiving a letter from Harris about Tobiassen, and that the two of them had a discussion.

But Harris testified that he left that discussion feeling he should keep his eyes and ears open for further problems.  Court papers show no investigation was started.

Neither Brad Harris nor Jerry Dempsey are with the Oregon Trial Boy Scout Council any more. 

But Troop 186 still meets in the basement of the First Christian Church in Corvallis.  Senior pastor Matt Gordon took over control of the church just six months ago, but says the Tobiassen case still reverberates.

“There are still people around in this community, when they see that number, that Troop 186, it sets off a very visceral reaction within them. Because they were either around in that period or knew someone in that period when all of that abuse was happening and they still remember that. They never really had the opportunity to really talk about it or deal with it or to come up with any sort of reconciliation,” Gordon said.

In 1987 a Corvallis jury awarded Tobiassen’s victim more than half a million dollars, plus another $2 million in punitive damages.

The Oregon Appeals Court vacated the punitive award two years later.

Editor’s Note:

The documents used in this story were released publicly after a two-year court battle. OPB joined The Oregonian, KGW-TV, the New York Times, AP and Courthouse News Service seeking access to these documents following a civil trial in Multnomah County. The Oregon Supreme Court ruled on June 14, 2012 that the Judge John Wittmayer’s original order to release those documents to the public was a reasonable exercise of his discretion as the judge in the civil case. The documents that were released have been redacted to conceal the names of victims and of certain parties who reported allegations of abuse to the Boy Scouts. — Morgan Holm,  Vice President of News and Public Affairs, OPB

 


OPB intern Sammy Brenner contributed to this report.

On the Web

Tobiassen’s file

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