Former Gainesville Scoutmaster, Church Targeted by Civil Suit Claiming Sexual Abuse in 1985
By Nick Watson
March 19, 2016
|The Ralph Cleveland Scout Cabin of Boy Scouts Troop 26, sponsored by First Baptist Church.|
A former Gainesville Scoutmaster is the target of a civil lawsuit alleging sexual abuse that brought a 22-year-old closed investigation into the light.
Royal Fleming Weaver Jr. is accused of raping Robert William Lawson III on a scouting event in 1985, according to a civil action filed Thursday in Fulton County State Court.
Multiple attempts to reach Weaver for comment Friday were unsuccessful.
A criminal investigation was conducted at the time but no charges were brought due to the alleged incident falling outside the statute of limitations.
Weaver served as the scoutmaster for Troop 26 from 1969 to 1981, which was sponsored by the First Baptist Church of Gainesville
“The Troop 26 Scouting Cabin, located on the property of the (First Baptist Church), was the location where multiple boys were sexually abused by Weaver,” according to the complaint.
An attempt to reach Lawson’s attorney for comment was unsuccessful.
The suit names Weaver, First Baptist Church of Gainesville, Boy Scouts of America, the Northeast Georgia Council and other members related to the Boy Scouts when Weaver was scoutmaster.
The suit seeks damages for alleged negligence and failure to provide adequate security, among other accusations.
“Over the years, I had heard a whisper, a rumor every now and then, but it just didn’t match with the Fleming Weaver I know,” the Rev. Bill Coates, pastor at First Baptist, said Friday.
After he was approached by an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter regarding the allegations and previous investigation, Coates said he realized the rumors had some basis in fact.
“I knew immediately that changes had to be made right away as far as him being a deacon or holding any leadership positions in our church,” Coates said.
A criminal investigation in the case started in January 1994, when a 38-year-old man told authorities he was molested as a child involved with the Boy Scouts, according to an investigative file obtained by The Times.
“At first it was just from time to time, maybe once a month or once every couple of months,” the man told investigators. “But then when I got into a leadership role in the Scouts it become quite regular.”
The man went on to say that he thought no one would believe him, according to the interview transcript.
Another man who says he was a victim is Tim Black, who said at age 14 he felt depressed and at times “not being able to function” before disclosing his abuse to a high school official and later his parents.
“Their response was immediate. They didn’t react with any doubt,” said Black, who agreed to be named by The Times.
But at the time of the abuse, Black said he did not feel comfortable having it made public.
“I was 14 years old and I really was not in a community, I think, that would have been supportive of someone who had been victimized in the way that I had and the other boys had,” Black said.
He remembers reading Weaver’s resignation letter with the standard “more time with family” line, as his contact with the former scoutmaster became less and less.
After undergoing five years of therapy and learning how to survive, Black said he felt more comfortable dealing with the allegations openly.
“If they had arrested him in 1995, I would have been the first on the witness stand,” he said.
In January 1995, investigators spoke with Weaver about the allegations. “He admitted that he had sexually abused five victims during the time they were in his Scout troop and this lasted for a period of approximately 10 years,” according to the interview report.
The report goes on to say that Weaver “denied any sexual contact with young boys since he went into counseling (1981-1982) and stated he would take a polygraph.”
The district attorney then, Gainesville’s Lydia Sartain, wrote at the time that the allegations were “barred by the statute of limitations,” and she closed the case.
“There was not anything we could do and I’m not sure really that there was anything they could have done from a civil standpoint at that time,” Sartain said Friday.
New state legislation may change that. House Bill 17 from the 2015-2016 Georgia General Assembly session extended the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse cases, “an attempt to give some relief” for those who may not have disclosed during childhood, Sartain said.
During her time as district attorney, the Edmondson-Telford Center for Children was established, which is now found in The Little House on Washington Street.
Before the center’s founding, a victim had to “repeat their sad tale to several folks” when seeking justice, Sartain said.
Coates began with First Baptist in 1998, where he met Weaver. He considered him a good friend and leader who was helpful with church committees.
Coates said he was surprised to see the church named in the lawsuit and added he expected to retain legal counsel.
“If I had any knowledge that he had been elected deacon at First Baptist, I would have called Dr. Coates and told him, because I have an immense respect for him,” Black said.
Fleming resigned as a deacon when approached by Coates, and the pastor sent a note to the congregation Friday. The text of that note appears as a letter to the editor on today’s Opinion page.
“The work of Christ and the church of Christ is the work of redemption. My earnest hope and prayer is that out of all this being made known that it will increase the chances of redemption for everybody involved, including those of us who are feeling such sadness and pain who were never involved,” Coates said.