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.

Dominic Bugatto
Brownwood, Texas, Sergeant Vince Ariaz allegedly forced himself on one underage Explorer and performed oral sex on another.
Brownwood Police Department
Brownwood, Texas, Sergeant Vince Ariaz allegedly forced himself on one underage Explorer and performed oral sex on another.
Brandon Greenhill admitted to having sex with Explorer “Natalie,” making him one of up to seven Bremerton, Washington, police officers accused of having an inappropriate relationship with the girl.
Brandon Greenhill admitted to having sex with Explorer “Natalie,” making him one of up to seven Bremerton, Washington, police officers accused of having an inappropriate relationship with the girl.
University of Nebraska professor Samuel Walker was the first to publicize the cops-having-sex-with-Explorers phenomenon in a paper he co-authored in 2003.
University of Nebraska professor Samuel Walker was the first to publicize the cops-having-sex-with-Explorers phenomenon in a paper he co-authored in 2003.
Former Los Angeles Police Department Chief Daryl Gates investigated the first Explorer case in 1976. Said Gates of the alleged “orgies” between cops and underage girls: “There was no rape, no seduction. There was a lot of agreement.”
Former Los Angeles Police Department Chief Daryl Gates investigated the first Explorer case in 1976. Said Gates of the alleged “orgies” between cops and underage girls: “There was no rape, no seduction. There was a lot of agreement.”

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."

The luster was long gone from Hollywood's star when, in the mid-1970s, the first Law Enforcement Explorer Girls (or LEEGS, as they were more commonly known at the time) appeared in the Los Angeles Police Department's rundown Tinseltown outpost. A couple dozen strong, they were among the first girls allowed into Explorers, a Boy Scouts career-preparation program dating to the 1940s. The LEEGS trailed cops as they patrolled the neon-lit expanses of porn shops, massage parlors and peepshows on their beats. They occasionally helped control event crowds and assisted with station-house desk work.

As a token of appreciation, the Hollywood cops began taking the Explorer girls, most of them fifteen and sixteen years old, on overnight weekend camping trips. The tradition endured for more than two years, until the autumn of 1976, when one of the girls, uncomfortable with the campsite activities, complained to department higher-ups. The camping trips, she reported, were little more than orgies.

When the news broke, the task of handling the ensuing media onslaught fell to an up-and-coming deputy chief named Daryl Gates, who later gained notoriety as the unsympathetic public face of the LAPD during the Rodney King affair. He was quick to dismiss the severity of what had occurred among his Hollywood cops and the girls they were tasked with mentoring. First of all, he told a scrum of reporters, this was not a sex scandal: "There was no rape, no seduction," he said. "There was a lot of agreement."

Ultimately, it was found that at least six cops had had sex with at least sixteen teenage Explorers. While some officers involved were fired, others remained in their jobs. The first publicly known case of its kind, it remains among the largest in terms of the number of cops and Explorers involved. But it wouldn't be the last.

Over the next decade, a handful of new cases would come to light, all in California. But though an underage Signal Hill Police Department Explorer told of having sex with four officers who'd mentored her over three years ending in 1982, and six sheriff's deputies were fired for sleeping with the same seventeen-year-old girl in Victorville, California, two years later, the Boy Scouts remained untouched by the fallout.

That would grow more difficult in 1987. That February, Lt. Robert Padilla of the Long Beach, California, Police Department met a sixteen-year-old Explorer while she was on desk duty. The middle-aged lieutenant and the teenager hit it off, and he invited her to his house. Twice that month, they had sex. In March, after their tryst had been exposed, Padilla was fired from his job, arrested and eventually placed on probation.

Chastened, the department put in place a set of rules governing the Explorer program. They forbade fraternization between police officers and Explorers, barred female Explorers from riding along with male officers, placed limits on the frequency with which Explorers were allowed to ride along and put a higher-up in charge of overseeing ride-along pairings. As the department got its house in order, the Boy Scouts emphasized the anomalous nature of what had happened.

"This is an isolated incident," Kurt Weaver, Scout Executive of the Long Beach Area Council of the Boy Scouts, told a reporter at the time — though in fact it was one of three such incidents that had come to light in a three-month period, all in Southern California.

In January 1987, Sgt. Robert Kredel, in charge of the Irvine PD's Explorer program, resigned after being accused of molesting a fifteen-year-old boy during an Explorer camping trip the previous fall, reportedly leaving the boy suicidal. Two months later, Officer Timothy Campbell of the Simi Valley PD was charged with sexually assaulting a sixteen-year-old female Explorer. Amid assertions that two other Simi Valley officers had also had sex with the girl — including a detective specializing in sex crimes and child-abuse cases, who was soon fired — the Simi Valley PD considered enacting rules similar to those in Long Beach.

Meanwhile, Hollis Spindle, a Boy Scout executive in Ventura County, provided insight into his organization's approach to such incidents. "This rarely happens, so we have no guidelines," he told the Los Angeles Times. "We can't have a policy that people will not meet and talk with each other when they are not in an Explorer activity. We can't stop people from being people."

In 2003, Samuel Walker, a professor at the University of Nebraska and a leading scholar on police misconduct, was researching a follow-up to a report he'd published a year earlier. In "Driving While Female," Walker had shed light on the phenomenon of police officers sexually harassing and assaulting women they'd pulled over for traffic infractions. Walker reported discovering an average of nearly twenty cases per year of police officers doing everything from forcing women to walk home in their underwear to raping them in their cars after pulling them over. His findings, he said, were "clearly the tip of the iceberg."

As Walker scoured the Internet to prepare an update, he stumbled upon a different trend: police officers sexually assaulting Explorers. "Just by changing around the search terms, we were able to find a large number of these cases," he says.

The report that grew out of his online meanderings, "Police Sexual Abuse of Teenage Girls," co-authored by graduate student Dawn Irlbeck, uncovered a "disturbing pattern" of cops sexually exploiting female (and, to a lesser degree, male) Explorers.

Among the cases Walker highlighted was one from 1998 in Largo, Florida, in which an officer accused of having sex with a sixteen-year-old girl killed himself. "I'm not the only person whose having sex with a minor at the Police Department," the officer wrote in his suicide note. "They really need to tighten up the rules with those Explorers."

Largo's police chief initially dismissed claims of a wider scandal as groundless. But an outside investigator subsequently found that at least eleven Largo cops had had sex with Explorers, dating back to the late 1980s.

The following year in Eureka, Walker reported, an internal investigation was launched into two officers accused of having sex with a sixteen-year-old female Explorer whom they'd taken on ride-alongs. The investigating officer, evidently intent on reenacting the crime, then took the girl on a ride-along of his own, during which he too had sex with her.

And in a case that came to light the year of Walker's report, David Kalish, who had risen to the rank of deputy chief of the LAPD, was accused of molesting at least six boys he'd supervised when they were LAPD Explorers in the 1970s. One accuser said Kalish had forced him to perform oral sex in his squad car while the two were in uniform.

In all, Walker listed 32 cases of police officers sexually exploiting Explorers, many involving multiple officers, multiple Explorers or both. Many more cases had surely eluded his radar, he said, either because they were never reported, were hushed up or simply didn't appear in his online searches.

After the Associated Press reported his findings, Walker used the ensuing attention to take police departments to task. Appearing on CNN in June 2003, he told a righteously outraged Bill Hemmer, "There appears to be a real pattern of abuse across the country. What I think it indicates is a failure of police departments to supervise these programs...and really investigate allegations of misconduct."

That evening, Anderson Cooper interviewed a sixteen-year-old former Explorer from San Diego who'd been seduced by an officer she'd gone with on frequent ride-alongs. "I don't want to hear this ever happening again," "Jane" told Cooper, her face blurred to conceal her identity. "This wouldn't have happened if they would have done their jobs."

Spared from the public shaming was the organization charged with overseeing the program. In 1991, under fire for its long-standing policy of not allowing atheists, homosexuals or girls among its ranks, the Boy Scouts spun off the Explorer program into a more inclusive subsidiary it named Learning for Life. Scouting officials described the move as the natural evolution of a fast-growing segment of its organization that had aims separate from the core mission of instilling traditional values in American boys. Critics smelled a different plot: at once inoculating a popular program from the legal challenges besetting the Boy Scouts while providing political cover for the organization as a whole.

Whatever the motivations, it would take Learning for Life years to begin imposing Explorer safety standards on police departments. The organization's "Safety First" policy, with a blanket ban on fraternization between cops and Explorers and limits placed on ride-alongs, first appeared on Learning for Life's website in 2002. (Thornton says Learning for Life barred underage Explorers from going on overnight ride-alongs starting in the mid-1990s, declining to specify further. She declined to say whether its no-fraternization rule went into effect before 2002.) Learning for Life had all but ripped the weathered page from the Long Beach PD's manual — the same rules that, years earlier, Boy Scout official Hollis Spindle had dismissed as unrealistic.

Summoning the courage to enforce the new rules would prove to be another matter.

As Walker broadcast his warning to the public, a 27-year-old cop two months into his career at the Bremerton, Washington, Police Department was getting to know a shy, immature nineteen-year-old volunteering there as an Explorer. Over the following months, in the hours spent on ride-alongs in his squad car, Officer Kelly Meade and "Bethany" progressed in stages from flirty conversation to a stolen kiss to heavy petting. Eventually, they started having sex.

In February 2004, their passionate e-mails intercepted, they came clean to department investigators about their liaison. Bremerton's then-police chief, Robert Forbes, in a written reprimand, told Meade that though Bethany was of age, the officer had brought shame upon himself, the department and the Explorer program by sleeping with her. "You were in a position of power and apparent, if not actual, authority," Chief Forbes wrote, sparks all but flying from his keyboard. Bethany, he added, "continued to refer to you by your title as an officer, not by your first name."

Forbes handed down a ten-day suspension without pay. Meade, claiming ignorance of the no-fraternization policy, filed an appeal. Bremerton's rule prohibiting outside relationships between cops and Explorers had been created just as Meade and Bethany were getting acquainted — after the supervisor in charge of the Explorers, having heard about Walker's report, decided to update the Explorer manual. But the same language never made it into the department's official rule book.

Citing that oversight, an arbitrator found that Meade hadn't been properly informed and reduced his punishment to a written reprimand. Bethany wasn't so lucky. Expelled from the Explorers, her career in law enforcement was over before it had begun.

Six years later, when an outgoing eighteen-year-old brunette with chipmunk cheeks and a fondness for police officers signed up as an Explorer, the integrity of Bremerton's police department would again be put to the test. "Natalie" quickly made an impression on both the departmental rank and file and the top brass, friending officers on Facebook, chatting with them online and going on ride-alongs as often as she could.

Having built up her online network, Natalie sought to hang out with her new police friends away from work. One officer took her to dinner and a movie, invited her over and allowed her to spend the night in his bed, but denied having sex with her. Another, Captain Tom Wolfe, took Natalie to a pizza joint, where he was seen caressing her inner thigh in public (an assertion he denies) and gave her special assignments that allowed her to bring home confidential paperwork. A third officer, Brandon Greenhill, admitted to inviting Natalie to his house while his wife was out of town and, as a movie played on TV, having sex with her.

The first officer, along with four others suspected of improper relations with Natalie, was cleared of wrongdoing by a subsequent department investigation. Wolfe and Greenhill were found to have broken department rules. But because the no-fraternization policy still hadn't made it into the department's official rule book, both officers, like Meade before them, received nothing more than written reprimands. Like Bethany, Natalie was kicked out of the program.

The investigation did yield one positive result: The department's rule book has since been updated. It is now officially forbidden for Bremerton cops to sleep with Explorers.

"To have an incident like that and not have policies in place is inexcusable," says Jeffrey Noble, the police accountability expert. "But then it happens again? That is outrageous. Someone is asleep at the wheel."

In the years since Walker's report brought police-on-Explorer sex into the open, Bremerton has not been the only department faced with an embarrassing lack of leadership.

In Tualatin, Oregon, the extent of an Explorer sex case — the second such case in the small department in recent years — which included a female Explorer, three officers and a state patrolman was not revealed until The Oregonian undertook a months-long investigation. It found that at least a third of Tualatin's 36-member police force had known of the abuse for years before any action was taken.

Two years ago in Madison, Connecticut, police chief Paul Jakubson resigned after an outside investigation found that he had "deliberately and repeatedly ignored, condoned, and thereby facilitated sexual misconduct" for more than a decade. In addition to turning a blind eye to his officers having sex with prostitutes, Jakubson allegedly reversed a lieutenant's decision barring an officer from repeatedly taking an underage Explorer on ride-alongs, thereby allowing that officer to continue to have sex with the girl unimpeded.

And earlier this year, in the San Bernardino case, it took months for a complaint from an administrator at a fifteen-year-old Explorer's school that a sheriff's deputy had an unusually close relationship with her to result in an investigation that quickly found that they'd been sleeping together all along. The inquiry found that another deputy was also having sex with a different Explorer. Both men were fired and face criminal charges. A third deputy suspected of similar behavior was allowed to remain in his job.

In a locked, fireproof cabinet at their national headquarters in Irving, Texas, sits a carefully maintained record of the Boy Scouts' most shameful secrets. "The perversion files," as they're known within the organization, hold the names of more than 5,000 suspected child molesters dating back to the 1940s. The documents gained public notice last year, when a former scout from Oregon, suing the Boy Scouts for hushing up his troop leader's serial molestations in the 1980s, successfully fought to get six boxes of the files — containing the names of some 1,200 suspected pedophiles — entered into evidence. A coalition of news organizations has since sued to make those files public. Citing privacy concerns, the Boy Scouts have resisted. The case is now before Oregon's supreme court.

Whether the Boy Scouts keep similar records for the Explorer program is not a question the organization is willing to answer. Thus the same culture of secrecy and scandal-aversion that has earned unflattering comparisons to the Catholic Church appears to be at work at Learning for Life. Beyond the organization's opacity is the matter of how it deals with police departments that have proven themselves incapable of keeping their officers' hands off their Explorers. When asked if Learning for Life has expelled, suspended or reprimanded any police department with an Explorer program for failing to uphold its rules, Thornton declined to answer directly. "[Police] departments investigate and take appropriate action to help insure the quality of the Exploring program and the safety of the youth in those programs," she responded. "If needed, city and county officials would also get involved."

Ceding oversight to the police departments and whatever local authorities they answer to may be a sound legal strategy, says Patrick Boyle, author of Scout's Honor, a book detailing cases of sex abuse within the Boy Scouts. But it is disappointingly hands-off. "In a program that pushes kids to go above and beyond," Boyle says, "the kids would be better served if their leaders went above and beyond, too."

Judith Cohen, a psychology professor at Temple University specializing in youth sex abuse, is more blunt. "Before [Learning for Life] has any more kids enroll [as Explorers], they should take a very systematic look at the problems and why they're arising," she says. "You can't just trust the police departments and hope for the best."

Maggie, the Explorer abused by former sergeant Vince Ariaz in Texas in 2007, is a prime example of who suffers when Learning for Life cedes oversight of its program to locals, says her lawyer, Jeffrey Edwards. "Every person that was supposed to look out for her not only failed, but really turned their back on her," he says. "In this case, the authorities were notified. They just didn't do their job."

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16 comments
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.

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.

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.

 
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