Former Boy Scout safety director freed from federal prison
DALLAS - The Boy Scouts of America have banned thousands of pedophiles and other undesirables from working as volunteers.
But one name on their rejection list stands out: Douglas Sovereign Smith Jr. The BSA’s former national director for youth protection was released from prison last week after serving nearly seven years behind bars.
He was in charge of Scout safety programs in 2005 when police discovered hundreds of images of child pornography and videos on his home computer. Some included prepubescent boys exposing themselves and engaging in sexual acts.
“Heart-wrenching and gut-tearing,” a prosecutor said at the time.
Smith reenters public life at a time when the Scouts are being heavily scrutinized for their past handling of alleged child sex abuse at the hands of staff and troop leaders.
None of Smith’s 520 photos were of Scouts and he was never accused of molesting children, but his case is a disturbing reminder that people in positions of power can lead double lives that put children at enormous risk.
“It certainly shows that the people supervising him didn’t have their eyes wide open,” said Patrick Boyle, author of "Scout's Honor: Sexual Abuse in America's Most Trusted Institution."
An Eagle Scout who spent 39 years rising through the ranks as a BSA employee, is now a registered sex offender and must report to a probation officer for life. The 69-year-old grandfather can’t access the Internet or possess a smartphone or camera.
While hardly a completely free man, he doesn’t leave prison empty-handed either.
According to a videotaped court deposition he gave while in prison, Smith said that he submitted his retirement letter as soon as his house was raided in 2005, making him eligible for the Boy Scouts’ pension and medical benefits.
“Are you kidding me? That’s absurd,” said John Buckland, a Scout who was molested by his troop leader in 1984. “We’ve got to basically beg them to take care of therapy. That’s crazy.”
Spokesman Deron Smith said the 103-year-old organization has established a toll-free number and email address for Scouts and their families who suffered past abuse by a Scout leader or adult volunteer and that money is available for counseling, with specifics decided on a case-by-case basis.
The Scouts declined to discuss Smith’s employment or ongoing benefits package. Nor would they comment on his criminal case or allow Yahoo News to see their confidential file on him.
“Because this is a personnel matter we can't discuss the details,” spokesman Deron Smith said in an email. “But I can say at the time of his arrest, Mr. Smith was permanently removed from the Scouting program.”
An attorney familiar with employment laws said denying Smith’s pension and benefits would violate the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act.
“They are very strict in protecting employee rights to what has been paid in,” said Rogge Dunn, a veteran Dallas attorney. “Having committed certain crimes is one of those things that the statute doesn’t address, but should probably be addressed in the future.”
This past October, against the Scouts’ wishes, 14,500 pages of the organization’s confidential ineligible volunteer files from 1965 to 1985 were made public. Since then, reporters and attorneys have been scouring the more than 1,200 alleged predators in the files. The findings are horrific: Some alleged abusers were allowed to resign quietly, while others were merely put on membership probation, where they were able to violate children again.
“Unfortunately child sex abuse, of any kind, is a societal problem that we must all be concerned with which is why we have continuously enhanced our multi-tiered Youth Protection policies and procedures to ensure we are in line with and, where possible, ahead of society’s knowledge of abuse and best practices for prevention,” the spokesman wrote in his email.
Ironically, Smith himself reported suspected bad seeds to the confidential files when he led councils in Ohio, Illinois, Michigan and Oregon before being promoted in 1996 to the national office in Texas.
Smith’s fall from BSA safety educator to federal inmate is baffling.
“I didn’t begin by seeking it,” Smith said of his porn addiction at his sentencing. “But I eventually accepted it in emails and sent it on to others.”
While Smith did not return calls from Yahoo News, his wife, Judith Smith, told us that her husband was a respected and model inmate. “He’s been running the 12-step programs in the prison for sex offenders,” she said two days before his release.
Boyle, who also researches and writes about youth issues for a national advocacy group, said he’s hopeful that Smith’s prison sentence has given him time to reflect and better understand his actions.
“I’ve talked to a couple of guys in scouting who did not recognize their attraction to children until they were Scout leaders and that they had an issue,” Boyle said. “[Smith] may know more now having reflected on it than he did in the past.”
The Scouts acknowledged that Smith is likely the only person on their so-called perversion files who is also still on the payroll.
“The Boy Scouts are going to pay a convicted felon a full retirement, but not reimburse people who have been abused at the hands of their Scout leaders?” said Buckland, who cannot sue for his 1984 abuse because of California's strict statute of limitations for filing. His lawyer is still negotiating reimbursement for years of therapy.
Smith, whose sentence included a $20,000 fine payable to the federal court, now resides in a new home just off the 10th hole of a golf course in an exclusive, gated North Texas community.
“He’s done his time,” his wife said.
Asked if she had forgiven her husband, Judith Smith replied: “If you look at the 12-step program, we have to realize that they are sick people, not bad people. It is an illness. You have to come face to face with it and get over it.”
• Boy Scouts youth protection help
• Scouts' leader Ineligible Volunteer files (1965-1985)