Three separate lawsuits have been filed (two, by enrolled members of the Navajo Nation and the third by a member of the Crow Reservation) against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, commonly known as the “Mormon” or “LDS” Church, and against LDS Family Services.
These three lawsuits follow five other lawsuits filed by adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse within the controversial Mormon “Lamanite (or Indian) Placement Program.”
“Not only were our clients sexually abused but the core tenants of this placement program subjected them to cultural and emotional abuse as well,” explains attorney Craig Vernon, a former member of the LDS Church and an attorney who has helped survivors of childhood sexual abuse across the nation in claims involving the LDS Church, the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts of America, and other entities.
“Canonized Mormon scripture teaches that Native Americans are descendants of a group of people that fled from Israel in the year 600 B.C. and settled somewhere in the Americas. According to Mormon scripture, these people then split up into two groups: The Nephites, a righteous people; and the Lamanites who, after becoming wicked and hardening their hearts, were cursed by God with a ‘skin of blackness’. This ‘curse’ doctrine, which equates having a ‘skin of darkness’ as a curse from God because of wickedness, is damaging to our clients’ self-esteem and to their culture. Telling our clients and other Native Americans that they were ‘cursed’, that they needed Mormonism to break this ‘curse’, is troublesome, to say the least.” added Vernon.
Two of the lawsuits were filed in the Navajo Nation District Court. The third was filed in Chelan County, Washington.
In the Washington lawsuit, Plaintiff Jane Doe 1 was taken off the Crow Reservation and placed with a foster family in Wenatchee, Washington. There, she was sexually abused on four separate occasions by her foster grandfather over a three-year period starting in 1970.
The Navajo Nation lawsuits both involve sexual abuse by two Mormon foster fathers. Plaintiff AH was sexually molested and abused by her Mormon foster father on multiple occasions starting in 1979. As part of this sexual abuse inside the perpetrator’s Mesa, Arizona home, AH was also forced to watch the perpetrator masturbate. AH, who currently lives in Gallup, New Mexico, will speak at the press event on August 15, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona.
Plaintiff JC was forcibly raped on multiple occasions, in a violent fashion, by her Mormon foster father at his Enterprise, Utah home in the late 1960’s.
“Unfortunately, childhood sexual abuse isn’t a plague unique to the Catholic Church” adds Billy Keeler, a Gallup, New Mexico lawyer who, along with Mr. Vernon, represent a total of eight adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse within this program who have filed lawsuits. “It is tragic that our other clients were sexually abused during this program. Religious organizations and programs such as this should be places where children are safe from harm, not places that protect sexual predators,” comments Mr. Keeler.
“What has happened in these lawsuits is exactly why professionally-trained law enforcement should investigate reports of childhood sexual abuse. There is no evidence that any of the perpetrators of abuse were ever disciplined by the Church or criminally charged. We hope that these civil lawsuits will ‘out’ the perpetrators and answer some questions as to why the Church failed to protect these kids back in the day,” comments Mr. Vernon
Keeler points out a disturbing trend within this program: “Many of our clients informed either Church leaders or LDS Family Service case workers about the sexual abuse, yet these cries for help fell on deaf ears. They didn’t remove these vulnerable kids from these horrific homes and the abuse continued.”
The rise and fall of this program appears linked to George P. Lee, who was a key figure during the program’s most robust years. As reported in the November 1975 edition of the Mormon Church magazine, the Ensign, “Lee, in the 1950s, was one of the first participants in the Church’s Indian Placement Program and later went on to receive a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University, a master’s from Utah State University, and a doctorate from BYU. In 1975, he was called by President Spencer W. Kimball to be the first Native American general authority in the Church.” Lee’s primary focus was the Lamanite Placement Program. While the program grew during the George P. Lee years, such growth was accompanied by scandal.
George P. Lee served as a general authority until 1989, when he was excommunicated from the Mormon Church for what Mormon leaders called “conduct unbecoming a member of the church.” As reported by the Salt Lake Tribune on July 31, 2007, “George P. Lee pled guilty in 1994 to sexual abuse of a child. The victim of this abuse, a girl, age 17 at the time of the 1994 trial, said Lee exploited the religious respect she had for him to fondle her breasts, buttocks and genitals. She said the abuse began when she was nine years old (in approximately 1986) and lasted for three years.”
“We know of George P. Lee’s guilty plea and the sexual abuse of this nine-year-old girl; what we don’t know is how many other survivors of abuse are out there. When the General Authority that the Church assigned over this program was sexually abusing young girls, it is no wonder we see abuse within the foster families as well,” comments Vernon.
“Because of the nature of this program which took children from their homes and placed them in a strange environment, protection of children should have been paramount. It appears that was not the case,” adds Keeler.
As an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse within this program, AH has chosen to speak out at this press event. While AH will tell her story at the press event, she wishes to send a message of hope for any other survivors of sexual abuse within this program. “Understand that you are not alone. It is not your fault. The shame is not yours, rather the shame belongs to those who abused, as well as those who allowed the abuse to happen.”
cell (208) 691-2768 – Craig Vernon is at Shareholder at James, Vernon & Weeks, P.A. Mr. Vernon has extensive experience in civil litigation, obtaining high-end settlements and verdicts ranging from defective products, dangerous drugs, medical malpractice, and sex abuse cases. Mr. Vernon focuses his practice on helping survivors of childhood sexual abuse achieve justice for past wrongs and in so doing helping to protect children in the future. Mr. Vernon has proudly represented many hundreds of sexual abuse survivors in Idaho, Montana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Arizona, Utah, Washington, Hawaii, and on the Navajo Nation. These cases have mostly involved claims against powerful religious and other organizations that failed to protect children from sexual abuse by persons in power over them.
William “Billy” Keeler
cell (505) 979-0688 – Billy Keeler is a shareholder of the Gallup, NM law firm of Keeler & Keeler LLP. Billy focuses his law practice on personal injury, including sexual abuse and injury cases involving railroads. Billy was co-counsel on the Navajo Supreme Court case John Doe BF v. Diocese of Gallup et al
which established the right of Navajo members to bring cases of sexual abuse against non-members. Billy is admitted to practice law before the State and Federal Courts of New Mexico, the Navajo Nation Court and the Hopi Tribal Court.
cell (612) 839-1080 – Patrick Noaker is an attorney in Minneapolis, Minnesota who has represented hundreds of sexual abuse survivors in cases across the United States. Patrick is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum for winning multiple jury trial verdicts exceeding $1M and for winning tens of millions more in settlements. Patrick can be reached by email at Patrick@noakerlaw.com
, by telephone at (612) 349-2735, Facebook Like Noaker Law Firm or follow on Twitter @NoakerLaw
The Book of Mormon reads: “And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people, the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.” (emphasis added) (2 Nephi 5:21, Book of Mormon).