Perv and Protect: Dozens of teenage Explorers have been sexually molested by cops. Should the Scouting program share the blame?

Perv and Protect: Dozens of teenage Explorers have been sexually molested by cops. Should the Scouting program share the blame?
Dominic Bugatto

Sergeant Vince Ariaz liked what he saw in fifteen-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, Texas, 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 primary 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.

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 fifteen-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 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 fifteen-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 city of 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, including an incident in 1999, just twenty miles west of St. Louis, down Interstate 44. In just the past year, two sheriff's deputies in San Bernardino, California, 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 fifteen-year-old; an officer in Bremerton, Washington, was reprimanded for sleeping with an eighteen-year-old; and a former cop in Burlington, North Carolina, pleaded guilty to taking indecent liberties with a minor after being accused of having sex with a fourteen-year-old he'd taken on ride-alongs.

A Boy Scouts of America subsidiary called Learning for Life has administered the Exploring program since 1998. Offering "Real-World Career Experiences" to teens and young adults, Exploring extends its reach far beyond law enforcement, providing 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 here.) 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 twenty-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, who's 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
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Happy_Happy_Happy_90
Happy_Happy_Happy_90

........I Саn`t bеlеivе...Мy friеnd`s sistеr mакеs 78/hr оn thе intеrnеt. Shе hаs bееn unеmрlоуеd fоr 11 mоnths but lаst mоnth hеr incоmе wаs 7985$ јust wоrкing оn thе РС fоr а fеw hоurs. Read on this wеbsitе....... C a s h M a n y . c о m

Brad Hicks
Brad Hicks

Any organization that allows adults unsupervised access to other people's minor children, under any circumstance, is just setting itself up for this kind of trouble; not because such setups encourage such behavior, but because if someone prone to such behavior gets into such an organization, there is nothing stopping them, and little or no chance of catching them. Doesn't matter if it's cops, teachers, doctors, clergy, anybody: if they're going to be with kids, they need to not be alone with them. That there are any organizations left that don't realize this and do something about it, after several decades' worth of scandals? That there are any organizations left who think "it can't happen here, because none of our people would do that"? Just blows my mind.

Wesley Mcgranor
Wesley Mcgranor

Such (and more) delinquency seems to be standard in policing. The test great-grandfather had, must be impassable for these postmodern types. Heres a tip, at least make marriage a part of such a ritual.

CHUCK ZITO
CHUCK ZITO

men perverts use that clean cut short haired yuppie office geek look to fool kids and parents into thinking they are good guys and can be trusted. you ever notice that little detail? its all a con job so dont fall for it parents or you kids. wise up to clean cut perverts and their ways.

CHUCK ZITO
CHUCK ZITO

Blame Satan 666 the Devil. 666 he is behind all evil sin. he use humans as his hand puppets and this is another one of the results of that. is that simple enough for ya?

Goodscouter
Goodscouter

It is unfortunate that in large youth organizations, like in the BSA and Learning for Life, that a few bad apples pop up, take advantage of the situation, and make the reputation of these two enriching programs look evil where the majority of good volunteers really make it a positive growth experience for teenagers. It is interesting how dated some of the stories are. With current youth protection standards, ride alongs have to consist of the same gender participants. That some departments outside of the Saint Louis area let male leaders take out female Explorers just floors me. This should serve as a wake up call to departments to review the rules and training annually and keep the program on the up and up for the youth. The national Learning for Life office does conduct one heck of a great Law Enforcement Conference for 4,000 Explorers bi-annually.

check engine
check engine

Seems Rock Hill Coed Post 544 was1st not LA.Started about 1971, with first campout at Mid-America Wentzville SCCA race.By 1976 was probably world largest, as general interest with no police.Parties much more fun outdoors in large groups, rather than in back seats

Wolfinstl
Wolfinstl

"...mostly leaving police departments to police themselves". Move along citizen, nothing to see here.

smash44
smash44

Isn't it nice to now the Good Ole Police Unions will see to it they all receive their taxpayer-provided pensions -- for rapists.

MandoMadMan
MandoMadMan

Although I like and respect the policemen I know - like my friend says, "There are scoundrels in every line of work."

Sexually abusing teens - that's pretty low.

CHUCK ZITO
CHUCK ZITO

you should read the cops gone bad website. cops are more evil and criminal now days than the so called bad guys they chase.

Paythepriceasyougo
Paythepriceasyougo

Some of these stories would be good for Riverfront Times Crap like a Mexican.

Boy Scout Supporter
Boy Scout Supporter

amazing that this article tries to place a disproportionate blame on the scouting program

when the explorers was spun off, due to 'demands' to be more 'inclusive of girls, many of the issues the boy scouts were dealing with previously were being addressed, like no one-on-one contact (due to pedophiles searching out boys in the scouts) and requiring certain training and background checks (ensuring no predators allowed in a position of leadership)...as well as no homosexuals

these positions, at the time, were branded as homophobic and religiously driven...and many shunned the boy scout organization...even to this day...

and when an explorer scout chose the law enforcement path, the scouting organization still had the charter PD fill out the necessary paperwork and required training...

and they were police officers, right?

what else would you want the scouts to do?

maybe the should audit every public school, since we all know date rape is occuring on a monthly basis in the bathroom stalls, right?

or have all the students take a drug test randomly throughout the year, because we know many of them are experimenting with drugs?

sooner or later, you have to have faith that an organization run by adults has the best interests of kids in mind...

if not, lock your kids up in a closet...

u can keep kids safe
u can keep kids safe

It amazes me that some are still surprised when they hear about stuff like this. No one in society is "above" committing acts of pedophilia and underage sexual assault including cops. Time and again the media shows that those people we feel should be most trustworthy - coaches, police, politicians, teachers, doctors, etc. - are capable of deviant sexual behavior with children.

This story is another example of why there should always be increased scrutiny of anyone anytime children are involved. If something seems suspect than it probably is. Never just assume things are okay because of the trust placed in that person or the length of time they've been doing their job.

Miker54
Miker54

Convict, jail and tatoo "Child Molester" on offender's forehead and let nature run it's course.

 
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