A lawsuit filed Tuesday claims the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints protected a Corvallis-based youth leader who sexually abused children. The suit alleges the plaintiff’s experience in the 1980s is part of a broader pattern established over the course of nearly 60 years.
Plaintiff David Hiser, 51, of Salem alleges the church protected Ron Kerlee and “failed to protect children after learning on at least six different occasions that Kerlee had sexually abused children.”
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Eugene.
Hiser is represented by Peter Janci and Steven Crew of Crew Janci LLP, based in Portland. Janci said Hiser, who is still active in the Latter-day Saints Church, feels the time is right to go public with his experience.
“(The abuse) is something that has caused long-term problems in his life and it’s still affecting him on a daily basis, and it’s affecting his family and his relationships,” Janci said. “The combination of understanding … the cause of some of his problems, and I think realizing that this was preventable and wanting to make sure that it is prevented for other kids who are in the church today, he really feels like it’s his duty to come forward and to speak up and speak publicly about what he experienced.”
The church released a statement Tuesday afternoon in response to questions about the suit.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints condemns all forms of abuse,” said Sam Penrod, a spokesperson for the church. “The church is committed to a thorough review of these allegations as they are filed in court.”
The lawsuit is seeking $5 million for emotional pain and suffering, as well as $500,000 for future costs of medical and mental health treatment.
“We believe the evidence in this case is going to show that the perpetrator held various positions with youth in the (Latter-day Saints) Church, where he met and gained the trust of this victim and many other children,” Janci said in a news release issued Tuesday. “These children and their parents had no idea they were being targeted by a predator. But we intend to prove that the church knew of the danger — and that they decided to keep it a secret and allow this man to continue as a church youth leader.”
Hiser alleges he was sexually abused by Kerlee for several years as a young teenager, with the abuse ending in the mid-1980s. Kerlee was in his late 30s and early 40s at the time. The lawsuit claims the church allowed Kerlee to continue working with youth after a prior sex crime conviction and several other instances of the church being notified of separate allegations against him.
Kerlee was convicted of third-degree sodomy in 1983 and received a suspended sentence of five years probation, according to the release. A court document provided by Hiser’s attorneys shows an order terminating Kerlee’s probation in Benton County in 1986 that references “letters submitted by Mr. Kerlee’s church authorities as requested by the court,” in support of his probation ending early. Hiser’s attorneys allege the Corvallis stake allowed him to proceed in leadership roles over youth members after this point.
Kerlee had his counseling license revoked by the state of Oregon in 2014 “for engaging in sexual contact with a counseling client,” a college-aged man, according to the release.
Hiser’s attorneys claim that his experience is indicative of a pattern of the Latter-day Saints Church protecting child predators in its ranks dating back to the 1960s. They said they intend to file for discovery of the church’s “red flag” documents, which are said to track instances of abuse committed by members of the church to establish a timeline of what the church knew and when.
K. Rambo can be contacted at 541-812-6091 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter via @k_rambo_.