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The Boy Scouts' Police Problem

Dozens of teenage Explorers have been sexually abused by cops. Should the Scouts share the blame?

Sergeant Vince Ariaz liked what he saw in 15-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.

Illustration by Dominic Bugatto
Brownwood, Texas, Sergeant Vince Ariaz allegedly forced himself on one underage Explorer and performed oral sex on another.
Brownwood, Texas Police Department
Brownwood, Texas, Sergeant Vince Ariaz allegedly forced himself on one underage Explorer and performed oral sex on another.

Ariaz had been suspected of it for years. In 2004, according to court records, a 15-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, meanwhile, 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 15-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 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. In just the past year, two sheriff's deputies in San Bernardino, Calif., 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 15-year-old; an officer in Bremerton, Wash., was reprimanded for sleeping with an 18-year-old; and a former cop in Burlington, N.C., pled guilty to taking indecent liberties with a minor after being accused of having sex with a 14-year-old he'd taken on ride-alongs.

The Explorer program is administered by Learning for Life, a Boy Scouts of America subsidiary formed in 1991. Its programs, which extend far beyond law enforcement, provide 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.) 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 20-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," wrote 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, 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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19 comments
Daniel
Daniel

WattAlthough the police department had my respect in the past, they have lost it now.as well as most that hold an office of the people. A sociologist professor friend of mine put the percentage of criminal types much higher in the police departments, closer to 30%, given that those wanting power to abuse others will seek those jobs that allow them the upper hand over others.After dealing with the same department for 40+ years I no longer ask them for assistance.They have stolen my property 3 times, once using threat of deadly force. Threatened my life with deadly force when I was mistaken for someone else while I was working on a friends property, with NO apology for the stress they left me with or even acknowledgement of their mistake or harm to me, rather just ignoring me as the father of my friend drove us all off the mountain I was accosted on.They have repeatedly ignored my requests for help or intimidated me for asking anything of them when my property or I was threatened.They treated me like I was the problem when I asked for assistance from them, they then consistently ignored my reports and dropped any further actions.

They started a riot during a peaceful block party, severely injuring my mothers tenant with gun shot while he was trying to ask for assistance with home invaders (because the police chased them into their rental for shelter by tear gassing my 75 year old mothers yard and house she was in), turning a peaceful gathering into a riot simply because some younger under aged collage students joined those on the block and had brought their own booze.( rather than be denied a beer by those carding at the keg), thereby causing the destruction of private and public property. And no attempt to help replace residents personal or property damaged by their actions. Apparently it is safer to shoot a student with a weapon then to let them have a drink, especially if they are of legal drinking age and are trying to ask you for help.

My Nephue was robbed at gun point, I was there when he called the police, and because he had his mind burnt when someone gave him a bad micky on a cruse ship he was working on, and so he thinks a bit slow now, I stayed near him when the officers came. they had two interrogating him as if he had robbed the thief during a bad drug deal, and one to keep me out of the way. Meanwhile the guys with the guns were probably on the highway or looking for their next victim.Whether it was involving drugs or not, someone committing armed robbery is the problem, not the victim! Someone whose money was taken at gun point is the victim, and not the one to be treated as the criminal, to be verbally abused by the officers until he gives up on his complaint!My Mothers VERY distinct car was STOLEN. she reported it, the police ignored it and didn't even tell the surrounding departments. My mother got a call a few days later to come get her ABANDONED car which she had to pay the impound lot a few hundred to retrieve. When told it was stolen they said they were never notified about it.

A Bike thief imposed himself into my (same) Nephues home and when asked to leave beat up my nephue. the police were called and claimed it was a domestic situation they didn't need to deal with. when it was pointed out the guy was a bike thief and the yard was filled with his stolen bikes they told my father it wasn't their investigation so they weren't going to investigate him for that, and left. This resulted in a friend of the nephue evicting the theiif at the point of a rifle, an action that should not have been needed if the police had protected my family member when asked.

Someone tried to rip the lamp off my back door ally wall, I opened the door and confronted him, he postured to hit me as well as my lamp before deciding to leave with his friends.Although I was shaken, I called the police and spent five or ten minutes describing the guy and which way he and his friends went .I called about it the next day and was told it was dropped because of lack of suspect description. Seems if they were having trouble understanding what I was saying, (I was still rattled), they could have asked questions, but that would have taken effort I guess.

a guy walking down the ally was trying to break off all the antennas he could see, including mine, I followed him to his house, got the address, (since example said they weren't going to look for him) then called the police. at first they tried to talk me out of doing anything, then they reluctantly questioned the guy and got him to give me $10 for the antenna, nothing for the gas or time to repair it and nothing for the others who had their property damaged that day and very little inconvenience for him or the police to do anything to resolve the problems caused.

I find they are very willing to abuse power to harrrass others when they choose, but when asked for assistance to actually protect and serve, it's too much trouble to truly assist those they are paid to protect, and much more likely to give lip service to or harrass the one taking the officers time.

There were a few officers in the past I respected, but now as a telling trait, they all wear black, and we all know what color hat the bad guy wears?

They say the best detourent to crime is a visible police presence, so they now wear black, dive black cars, and stay in them parked in the shadows.

I have a hard time respecting anyone who joins that Violent gang now (even tho our scout troops senior patrol leader is a member of the force), and no one I know will vote to raise their funds, which is too bad because I would vote to increase the fire department funds , if the gang in black didn't get any of it with the same vote.

Watt1246
Watt1246

I guess this is what social media has become (sigh)... just another place for people to bitch instead of actually contributing something to life

Hfhsaosdi
Hfhsaosdi

well if they are to busy fuckin kids they have less time to shoot unarmed black men

Watt1246
Watt1246

Gw... I feel sorry for you. I don't know why you have so much hate for cops, but I'm betting you had a bad experience with one. Don't let one bad experience dictate your ideas of what all people are like. There are definitely those cops who are corrupt and abuse the power they have (about 5%) then there are the cops who are actually out there trying to make a difference (about 95%). Did you know the average person encounters a police officer once every 5 years, and generally that is for a traffic stop. Cops could say the same remarks you have as well if they judged all of society on the law breakers (only about 5% of the entire population) and state that everyone is a no good criminal who deserve nothing in this world but pain.... Funny how 5% of cops are not good as well as 5% of the population. I hope you can figure out what you need in your life to make things better for yourself, and if (not saying you are in any way) part of the 5% who are constantly contacted by the police, you may want to change your life.

WeThePeople
WeThePeople

Watt-You need to keep your focus on TV cops. You obviously don't pay attention to the real world!

Watt1246
Watt1246

I find the amount of ignorance in people to be amazing at times.

Americans for Americans
Americans for Americans

I'm sure you do! In fact, I'd bet it's rather like a paradox for you you, thinking TV cops reflect the REAL world. Get the clue: They're actors....reading from a script....that some writer wrote! P.S. "Bambi" was a cartoon, not the real world either.

We The People
We The People

You're ONE of the fools that thinks they're good people. I come from a family of cops, and know thousands. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A GOOD COP! Unless you rate cops by how many people they steal from, rape, murder, trade drugs for sex with, murder your family pet and how much and many lives they can totally destroy. In that case ALL COPS ARE PERFECT! I think your Watt is burned out!

Watt1246
Watt1246

I'm guessing your family would be part of the 5% then... I once again feel sorry for all the anger you hold in yourself. Life is way too short to be mad at people all the time. I too come from a family of cops and I do know the type of people you are talking about when you say they do things that are not trustworthy at all. But I also know those ones are few and far between.

Gw
Gw

Police? Trustworthy authority?? Not in this lifetime! For what must be at least the 1,000th time: The ONLY difference between a good cop and a bad cop is a matter of being caught! Only fools will disagree and try to fool people into thinking cops are good people. Just so everybody is aware: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A GOOD COP! ANYWHERE! They are power hungry, citizen abusing control freaks with guns and will not hesitate to try and destroy a person. They are the scourge of this world. This is why they got picked on in high school.

servemyown
servemyown

Why should we be surprised? I see at least one "officer" breaking the law almost every day I go out. How can they be expected to uphold the law when they think they are above it. I bet it go's way beyond a "few".....

Watt1246
Watt1246

You are right that you see officers break the law every day... but the same can be said about officer toward the public and they don't stop everyone. Officers do speed from place to place, but do you have any idea why they are speeding? If your house is being burglarized would you want them to go slow so the criminal isn't caught or would you want to them to break the speed limit and save your belongings or possibly your life?

Americans for Americans
Americans for Americans

In Colorado we have a "Make My Day" Law, we don't need the cops when somebody tries to burglarize our homes. We have the right to shoot them dead without a corrupt cop having to get in the way.So go ahead, just try to enter MY house without permission!

megarman
megarman

BSA is one of the greatest organizations in this county- if not the best. Millions of kids have learned life changing skills and become better citizens through involvement. You've got a story about a bad cop that has access to kids. He needs to be prosecuted, not the BSA. Why don't you go back to writing stories about how great the pot shops are in Denver? That seems to be what the Westward does best- no contribution to society.

Jack Beatty
Jack Beatty

BSA has policies in place to prevent this, a minimum of two deep leadership is required at all times. It is disturbing that those who are there to enforce rules were not following basic rules of conduct for leaders in a program that should have been supervised by superiors, or even better, fellow officers with a sense of what's right ...... and wrong.

Sharpshooter
Sharpshooter

A dirty pig, using his badge, influence, and probably his tiny little prick, to fuck around with a 15 year old? Surprise me! Do the world a favor, line these POS up and open fire .

 
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