Wichita — A former Kansas county attorney claimed he had no memory of a 1961 letter in which he declined to prosecute two Boy Scout leaders even though the men had confessed to molesting numerous Scouts in their care.
Former Harvey County Attorney Richard Hrdlicka wrote that prosecuting the case would harm the reputation of the Scouts, a local YMCA and several churches and he thought the price to the community would be “too great.”
That letter was among a secret trove of “perversion files” kept by the Boy Scouts of America and released Thursday by order of the Oregon Supreme Court. The 14,500 pages of confidential files dating from 1959 to 1985 include 14 Kansas cases. In one, a Newton Scoutmaster admitted that during all-night parties at his house, he would take one boy at a time into his bedroom for the purposes of “immoral acts.”
An investigation revealed some 10 boys were molested by the then-41-year-old Scoutmaster. A second man also admitted molesting at least two Scouts from the troop.
Hrdlicka, who served as Harvey County attorney from 1960 to 1964, initially laughed Friday when The Associated Press contacted him by telephone and told him about the letter’s release.
“I have absolutely no recollection, and I do not intend to do a whole bunch of work on something that I wrote 50 years ago — so just leave it at that,” said Hrdlicka, who now lives in Santa Fe, N.M.
His letter, sent in June 1961 to a Scout executive in Wichita, said the men were required to cut all ties with the Boy Scouts and any other youth organizations and to get psychiatric treatment.
“After the complete admission of these two persons, I came to the decision that to openly prosecute would cause great harm to the reputations of two organizations which we have involved here — the Boy Scouts of America and the local Y.M.C.A., as well as damage to the reputations of at least two churches,” Hrdlicka wrote. “I felt then and do now feel that the price which the community would have to pay for the punishment of these two individuals would be too great, in view of the fact that the damage thusly done to these organizations would be serious and lasting.”
Protecting the public
Michael Kaye, director of Washburn University School of Law’s Center for Excellence in Advocacy in Topeka said times were different then, but that doesn’t excuse a failure to prosecute someone who committed crimes against children that people knew were wrong even in the 1960s.
“It is legitimate for a prosecutor to be concerned about the disruption in the community and that sort of thing, that is true,” Kaye said. “But that is not their primary responsibility. It is the protection of the public that they are supposed to be mainly concerned with.”
Prosecutors have wide discretion on whether to prosecute, he said.
“Today we are much more open about our willingness to look into organizations that have within them people who are lawbreakers and predators,” Kaye said, citing the case against a Catholic bishop in Kansas City for failure to report child sex abuse and the abuse scandal that rocked Penn State, leading to the prosecution of an assistant coach and sanctions against its football program.
Six of the 14 cases in the secret Boy Scout files were from troops in Wichita, and two were from Leavenworth. The others were from Arkansas City, Hoisington, Kansas City, Manhattan, Newton and Olathe.
At least three of the suspects were eventually imprisoned for committing sex crimes against other children years later, Kansas corrections records show.
Mike Johnson, executive for the Boy Scouts of America Quivira Council, said the organization has since instituted criminal background checks, training programs and mandatory reporting to law enforcement authorities of suspected child abuse.
“The Boy Scouts of America believes any occurrence of abuse is unacceptable, and we regret there have been times when the BSA’s best efforts to protect children were insufficient,” Johnson said. “For that, we are deeply sorry and extend our deepest sympathies to victims.”