And then there were four

By Marty Trillhaase

Post Register editorial board members are Roger Plothow, publisher; J. Robb Brady, publisher emeritus; Marty Trillhaase, Opinions page editor; and Dean Miller, managing editor.

Price

A Boy Scout leader sexually abuses boys. He winds up in prison. His court file gets buried.

And nobody at the Grand Teton Council of the Boy Scouts of America is talking.

Convicted child molester Robert Scott Price's story isn't the first of its kind.

Not the second.

Nor the third.

It's the fourth.

You call that a pattern.

Price's story is significantly different from those of pedophiles Brad Stowell, Jeff Hardin and Dennis Empey, however.

Price admitted abusing boys as recently as 2001. He was convicted and sentenced to 15 years to life the following year.

Hardin

Stowell, recently sent to prison, was caught in 1997.

Hardin was stopped in 1991.

Convicted of raping boys in Utah, Empey was never prosecuted for allegedly abusing a 15-year-old Idaho boy in 1983.

Price was a Scout and youth leader at an LDS church in Bannock County. Stowell, Hardin and Empey trolled the Boy Scout camp system. So Price's case demonstrates Scouts risk molestation at home as well as at camp.

Price was facing five child sexual abuse felonies when he strolled back into Scouting in May 2002. That's uncomfortably similar to Grand Teton Council officials resuming their association with Empey -- who provided graphics and photographs for the Council's Web site -- until severing it just six weeks ago. How do these revelations square with Boy Scout council assurances that it takes child abuse seriously -- and has policies in place that protect your son?

Finally, there's this critical difference: You can't read Price's criminal court file. It's sealed. Bannock County court clerks won't let you see it. Indeed, their courthouse computer system will tell you that Price's case file doesn't exist.

Sound familiar?

Lawyers for the Boy Scouts went to extraordinary lengths to keep you in the dark about lawsuits two of Stowell's victims filed against them in Bonneville County. This newspaper went to court to pry those records loose.

Same story with Hardin's Bannock County criminal conviction -- although the courthouse computer system still doesn't reveal its presence.

Stowell

It was easier getting Empey's records. They're stored in Utah, where clerks willingly released them.

Sure, there's a reason why some records -- child adoption, termination of parental rights and mental commitments -- are off limits. But a major lawsuit involving a trusted institution is the public's business.

Even more shocking is finding a criminal case sealed off from public scrutiny.

Yes, Price was sentenced in a public courtroom session. But how are people supposed to review the case without the file? How can they judge for themselves how well it was handled? How are they supposed to protect themselves?

Comb through other courthouses and you'll find legal officials who are surprised to hear Bannock County seals criminal cases. Prosecutors there say it's done to protect child sexual abuse victims from ridicule. But there are other ways to do that, such as removing the victims' names from the documents, without cutting off public access.

Empey

It appears Price's case was sealed only in its initial stages -- and that a computer system glitch didn't reopen it later. That story is getting old. We heard it last spring in an earlier Bonneville County case, along with promises that the court administrators would fix the problem.

If there's one common denominator among Stowell, Hardin, Empey and now Price, it's this: silence from Grant Teton Council executive Kim Hansen and his subordinates.

You'd expect otherwise.

It's their boys who've been hurt.

It's their program that's been tarnished.

Where's the proof these Scouting leaders sincerely want to stop this awful pattern?

Marty Trillhaase

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