By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Having built up her online network, Natalie sought to hang out with her new police friends away from work. One officer took her to dinner and a movie, invited her over and allowed her to spend the night in his bed, but denied having sex with her. Another, Capt. Tom Wolfe, took Natalie to a pizza joint, where he was seen caressing her inner thigh in public (an assertion he denies), and gave her special assignments that allowed her to bring home confidential paperwork. A third officer, Brandon Greenhill, admitted to inviting Natalie to his house while his wife was out of town and, as a movie played on TV, having sex with her.
The first officer, along with four others suspected of improper relations with Natalie, was cleared of wrongdoing by a subsequent department investigation. Wolfe and Greenhill were found to have broken department rules. But because the no-fraternization policy still hadn’t made it into the department’s official rule book, both officers, like Meade before them, received nothing more than written reprimands. Like Bethany, Natalie was kicked out of the program.
The investigation did yield one positive result: The department’s rule book has since been updated. Bremerton cops now are officially forbidden to sleep with Explorers.
"To have an incident like that and not have policies in place is inexcusable," says Jeffrey Noble, the police accountability expert. "But then it happens again? That is outrageous. Someone is asleep at the wheel."
In the years since Walker's report brought police-on-Explorer sex into the open, Bremerton has not been the only department faced with an embarrassing lack of leadership.
In Tualatin, Ore., the extent of an Explorer sex case — the second such case in the small department in recent years — which included a female Explorer, three officers and a state patrolman, was not revealed until The Oregonian undertook a months-long investigation. It found that at least a third of Tualatin’s 36-member police force had known of the abuse for years before any action was taken.
Two years ago in Madison, Conn., Police Chief Paul Jakubson resigned after an outside investigation found that he had "deliberately and repeatedly ignored, condoned and thereby facilitated sexual misconduct" for more than a decade. In addition to turning a blind eye to his officers’ having sex with prostitutes, Jakubson allegedly reversed a lieutenant’s decision barring an officer from repeatedly taking an underage Explorer on ride-alongs, thereby allowing that officer to continue to have sex with the girl unimpeded.
And earlier this year in San Bernardino, it took months for a complaint from an administrator at a 15-year-old Explorer’s school — that a sheriff’s deputy had an unusually close relationship with her — to result in an investigation that quickly found they’d been sleeping together all along. The inquiry also found that another deputy was having sex with a different Explorer. Both men were fired and face criminal charges. A third deputy suspected of similar behavior was allowed to remain in his job.
In a locked, fireproof cabinet at their national headquarters in Irving, Texas, sits a carefully maintained record of the Boy Scouts' most shameful secrets. "The perversion files," as they’re known within the organization, hold the names of more than 5,000 suspected child molesters dating back to the 1940s. The documents gained public notice last year, when a former scout from Oregon, suing the Boy Scouts for hushing up his troop leader’s serial molestations in the 1980s, successfully fought to get six boxes of the files — containing the names of some 1,200 suspected pedophiles — entered into evidence. A coalition of news organizations has since sued to make those files public. Citing privacy concerns, the Boy Scouts have resisted. The case is now before Oregon’s Supreme Court.
Whether the Boy Scouts keep similar records for the Explorer program is not a question the organization is willing to answer. Thus the same culture of secrecy and scandal aversion that has earned unflattering comparisons to the Roman Catholic Church appears to be at work at Learning for Life.
Beyond the organization’s opacity is the matter of how it deals with police departments that have proven themselves incapable of keeping their officers’ hands off their Explorers. When asked if Learning for Life has expelled, suspended or reprimanded any police department with an Explorer program for failing to uphold its rules, Thornton declined to answer directly. "[Police] departments investigate and take appropriate action to help insure the quality of the Exploring program and the safety of the youth in those programs," she responded. "If needed, city and county officials would also get involved."
Ceding oversight to the police departments and whatever local authorities they answer to may be a sound legal strategy, says Patrick Boyle, author of Scout’s Honor, a book detailing cases of sex abuse within the Boy Scouts. But it is disappointingly hands-off. "In a program that pushes kids to go above and beyond," Boyle says, "the kids would be better served if their leaders went above and beyond, too."