The Boy Scouts' Police Problem: Explorers Have Been Sexually Abused by Cops. Should Scouts Share the Blame?

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Illustration by Dominic Bugatto.

Sgt. Vince Ariaz liked what he saw in 15-year-old "Maggie." Eager to please, in awe of police work, and seeking a trustworthy authority figure in her life, the shy brunette was an ideal fit for the Brownwood, Tex., Police Department's Explorer program.

With nearly 2,000 law-enforcement Explorer posts and upward of 32,000 14-to-21-year-olds participating in the Boy Scouts-affiliated program each year, Maggie had entered a gateway into American law enforcement. The paunchy, gregarious 53-year-old sergeant who'd been running Brownwood's Explorer program since its inception took pains to make her feel special. Rapidly promoting her through the ranks, he promised to get her into the police academy when she was of age. Soon he was taking her on ride-alongs nearly every night.

San Bernadino deputy Nathan Gastineau allegedly had sex with an underage Explorer.
Courtesy of San Bernardino County Sheriff
San Bernadino deputy Nathan Gastineau allegedly had sex with an underage Explorer.
University of Nebraska professor Samuel Walker was the first to publicize the cops-having- sex-with-Explorers phenomenon in a paper he co-authored in 2003.
Courtesy of Sam Walker
University of Nebraska professor Samuel Walker was the first to publicize the cops-having- sex-with-Explorers phenomenon in a paper he co-authored in 2003.

One morning in June 2007, six months into Maggie's tenure, another Brownwood cop saw the girl — too young to have a driver's license — at the wheel of Sgt. Ariaz's squad car. Queasy, he contacted a Texas Ranger, John Nick Hanna, who was in the midst of a months-long investigation of Ariaz over allegations of sexual abuse.

Ariaz had been suspected of it for years. In 2004, according to court records, a 15-year-old Explorer told Brownwood Police Chief Virgil Cowin that Ariaz had forced himself on her one night when they were alone in the station house, kissing her, fondling her breasts, and fingering her vagina. Cowin also knew of text messages Ariaz had sent the girl bragging about the size of his penis and how he intended to use it on her.

"You're just a child," the girl recalls Cowin telling her. "You're just making it up."

Her complaint went nowhere.

Hanna's investigation, meanwhile, had been similarly stalled. Jolted to action by the new information, however, he soon learned that Ariaz took Maggie out several nights per week, often parking his car for hours at a time at known make-out spots. With a go-ahead from his superiors, Hanna set up a hidden camera. For five nights, he watched as the sergeant kissed and groped Maggie, but held off until he had his smoking gun. Finally, after watching Ariaz go down on the girl, he swooped in for the arrest.

The eyebrow-raising decision to use an unwitting 15-year-old girl as bait for a serial sexual abuser — over which a multimillion-dollar lawsuit, naming the Texas Rangers, the local prosecutor, and the Brown County Sheriff's Office as defendants, was filed earlier this year — is atypical. But police officers having sex with Explorers is not.

In recent decades, more than 100 police officers have had sex with Explorers they were entrusted with mentoring, the vast majority of them underage. In just the past year, two sheriff's deputies in San Bernardino, Calif., were arrested for having sex with underage girls; a New York City cop was charged with child sex abuse after sending racy text messages to a 15-year-old; an officer in Bremerton, Wash., was reprimanded for sleeping with an 18-year-old; and a former cop in Burlington, N.C., pleaded guilty to taking indecent liberties with a minor after being accused of having sex with a 14-year-old he'd taken on ride-alongs.

The Explorer program is administered by Learning for Life, a Boy Scouts of America subsidiary formed in 1991. Its programs, which extend far beyond law enforcement, provide more than 110,000 young people each year the chance to see firsthand workplaces in fields ranging from aviation to architecture to the law. The organization's mission, says Learning for Life Executive Director Diane Thornton (who for the purposes of this article responded only to questions submitted in writing) is to "enable young people to become responsible individuals by teaching positive character traits, career development, leadership, and life skills so they can make moral choices and achieve their full potential."

The exact number of exploited Explorers is not known. (For a list of known cases, see the interactive feature accompanying this article at http://bit.ly/hands-onexperience) And Thornton won't say whether Learning for Life tracks sex-abuse cases against Explorers, nor would she comment on why the vast majority of those cases involve police officers. "We do not release that type of information," she wrote.

Learning for Life, Thornton says, has sought to reduce instances of Explorer sex abuse — which she characterizes as "very rare" — limiting one-on-one contact between mentors and Explorers, banning non-work relationships, and requiring those who work with Explorers to watch a 20-minute training video.

"The protection of all youth in Learning for Life programs is of paramount importance, and Learning for Life views any abuse of youth as unacceptable," says Thornton.

But a review of Explorer sex abuses dating back to the 1970s shows that the Boy Scouts and Learning for Life waited years to enact rules barring inappropriate contact between police and Explorers. And once these rules were in place, the Boy Scouts and Learning for Life have not enforced them, mostly leaving police departments to police themselves.

"Learning for Life should expect police chiefs to follow common-sense rules protecting Explorers," says police accountability expert Jeffrey Noble, deputy chief of the Irvine, Calif. Police Department and a believer in the Explorer program's benefits. "If they become aware their rules aren't being followed, should they refuse to allow that department to have an Explorer program? Absolutely. Shame on them if they don't."


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16 comments
StopChildAbuse-ReadTaxReturns
StopChildAbuse-ReadTaxReturns

It is my firm philosophy that when one wants to stop molestation, abuse of minors, one should go for the money exchanging hands as the "smoking gun." Many times this involves nonprofits, or justice-diversionary programs.

Appreciate the posting of this article. I am wondering how many children would never have been molested if more just normal type, common people learned how to look up charitable returns of major nonprofits that deal with kids -- and call 'em on it when they fail to file.

It's like when something involves "children" or "family" (etc.) the public's mind goes brain-dead. No one likes to deal with corruption -- we prefer to hire others to. However, it's not going to be a free society if we don't understand BOTH patterns of excellence and how patterns of corruption actually happen.

Check it out:www learningforlife org/ about-us/youth-protection-training

I just saw the annual report. It looks just "too" bright, shiny, and carefully multicultural (in TEXAS?) -- and no mention of funding, only testimonials.

There's a "learning for life" foundation EIN# 26-2270708 and then the organization itself, EIN# 75-2396057, no return shows for year 2006. Looks like they are esp. marketing in part to the homeschool/charter school crowd, and have a "Fr." (priest) on a committee. Looking at the highest income year for first EIN#, we see two of the Board of Directors were Scouts, with long tenure, and salary of (Chief) close to $1 mil ($988K) and the other, just short of $500K. "Please donate" to their salaries.

I'm heading off to Texas URLs to see if they've been filing properly with the state. Will report back if I find anything. NB: California charities supposed to be helping kids are notorious (but not notorious enough yet in my opinion) for functioning as channeling money to/from the courts.

Major congratulations to Texas Ranger Hanna (hope the young woman recovered...) and Jonathan Kaminsky for this article. It was far better than the one on California Courts Giving Custody to Pedophiles, which didn't even identify the source of the problem very well.

Happy New Year. Good Job.

Signed, a Mom(I have adolescent (very young adult) daughters who've been in the care of religionists recently, thanks to non-prosecuting law enforcement several years ago + the local family court apparatus)

(note: URL I provided is not mine, it links to an article about a SF charity's fundriaiser)

Rebecca_ae
Rebecca_ae

it is sad but not surprising that men would abuse their power to dominant and take advantage of young women.

Federale
Federale

Riding along every night. Sounds like consent. If a 15 year old goes out to night clubs and dresses like an adult, and sleeps around, San Francisco considers that sexual liberation. But because a Texas cop was invovled it is now rape.

MorttenC
MorttenC

Right!Because getting into a car means an underage girl is agreeing to have sex with any man in that car, especially one she perceives as having power over her physically, and power over her future employment.

Not only did these cops repeatedly molest these underage kids, all the cops who knew about these repeated unlawful and morally reprehensible acts took NO action to stop them. That means there are many more police complicit in these crimes.

There should be enhanced penalties for any public servant who uses their power to commit crimes, especially sex crimes against youths from their own communities.These sexual predators should all be behind bars.

Whoapprovedthatgraphic
Whoapprovedthatgraphic

Looks like the cops are the problem, not the Boy Scouts. Looks like those in charge of the police are not following the very laws they are supposed to enforce. Although I appreciate this article (as it brings a great injustice to light) I feel the blame must remain on the molesters. The Boy Scouts are not hired public servants. The police are.

Citizenwatch
Citizenwatch

Thanks to SF Weekly, now people can see how hypocritical the bad cops are!

Citizenwatch
Citizenwatch

More evidences validate that cops are bad guys

Williesmith692
Williesmith692

These cops enjoy excellent pay & benefit with our hard earned tax money while they are doing the ugly things in the dark corner. SHAME on THEM!!

Adamwong
Adamwong

Then who to arrest these cops?

Gguest
Gguest

The comparison to the Catholic Church is very interesting because it shows that virtually any organization that allows adults to work with children are probably having these same crimes take place.

Gguest
Gguest

How is it that these cops are not charged with rape? Along with a dozen other crimes. It seems that punishment usually is a few days suspension without pay, and of course they have to keep their pensions...

Our society falls deeper into the abyss every day...

Dancy White
Dancy White

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Grownups
Grownups

You can chop you know what off, any adult that takes advantage of their power over a young person who is in their 'trust'. Any servie agency or program that supplies adults as teachers or mentors are ACCOUNTABLE for setting standards of behavior and then monitoring these relationships. "Adults who work with children have a duty of care. They must safeguard children from emotional, sexual and physical harm."

 
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