LDS Church hit with new sex abuse lawsuit
By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
Gallup Independent correspondent
January 10, 2019
WINDOW ROCK — Another lawsuit has been filed against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints alleging sexual abuse in the church’s now defunct Lamanite Placement Program, or Indian Student Placement Program.
The plaintiff, referred to as “LB” to protect his anonymity, is an adult member of the Navajo Nation who claims he was sexually abused as a child by a Mormon bishop in Payson, Utah, while enrolled in a program in the mid-1980s.
The lawsuit was filed in the Navajo Nation’s Window Rock District Court Tuesday by Gallup attorney David R. Jordan. California attorney Paul Mones is serving as co-counsel.
Defendants named in the case include the LDS Church and the LDS Family services, formerly the LDS Social Services.
“The LDS Church promised our client that his experience in the Indian Placement Program would be spiritually enriching,” Jordan said in a news release. “It did the exact opposite and caused him terrible pain.”
According to the lawsuit, LB was baptized into the Mormon Church in July 1984, just prior to beginning fifth grade. About a month later, LB was transported from his Arizona home on the Navajo Nation to Utah, where he was placed in a Mormon foster home and where his foster father was an LDS stake president. During his second year living with the foster family, LB alleges, he was sexually abused three times by a local LDS bishop, referred to as “Bishop I,” who lived across the street.
LB claims he reported the molestation first to his foster mother, then his teacher and finally his placement program case worker. All those reports resulted in angry responses and punishment from LB’s foster parents. Jordan and Mones assert LB was even left alone with his abuser and was ordered to apologize to the bishop for allegedly lying about him.
The lawsuit alleges LB began stealing from his foster family because LB “had concluded the only way to get away from Bishop I” was to be dismissed from the placement program and sent home. In August 1986, LB was sent back to the Navajo Nation.
Jordan and Mones argue five legal causes of action: childhood sexual abuse, assault and battery, negligence, negligent supervision/failure to warn and Diné bi beenahaz’aani.
The last cause of action, the lawsuit explains, is rooted in the traditional customs and usages of the Navajo people and refers to a concept in Navajo Common Law “that one who is found responsible for inflicting harm on another person must pay the victim for the harm to restore harmony.”
This latest case is the 14th civil lawsuit or complaint filed against the LDS Church in recent years alleging sexual abuse of minor children enrolled in the Lamanite Placement Program.
A pair of adult Navajo siblings, a brother and a sister, filed the first lawsuit in the Navajo Nation courts in March 2016. They were represented by attorneys Bill Keeler, of Gallup, and Craig Vernon, of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Additional individuals came forward, with some of them filing similar lawsuits.
However, all the legal complaints were plagued with thorny jurisdictional disputes. As a result, Keeler and Vernon negotiated confidential monetary settlements for three of their clients in 2017, followed by nine more settlement agreements in 2018. Although the attorneys obtained monetary settlements for their clients, they did not obtain some things they had initially sought, such as LDS Church apologies to the plaintiffs or to Native American tribes.
An additional client, a Navajo woman who claims she was repeatedly sexually assaulted in the LDS program, declined to agree to a settlement, and she retained Jordan as her new attorney.
Efforts to obtain further comment from Jordan were unsuccessful Wednesday as he was in a court hearing.