New lawsuit against LDS Church over sex abuse

Fox News 13, Utah/June 7, 2016

By Ben Winslow

Salt Lake City -- A fourth person has now come forward, alleging they were sexually abused while participating in a program run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for Native American children.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Navajo Nation Tribal Court, accuses the LDS Church of not reporting the abuse to the proper authorities.

"This can't be swept under the rug," the man, identified in court papers as "LK," told FOX 13.

LK claims in court papers that he was taken from his home on the Navajo Nation as a child, baptized into the Mormon faith, and placed with a host family under a program the church ran called the "Lamanite Placement Program." Also known as the "Indian Placement Program," the lawsuit claims it was "the LDS Church's desire to convert Native American or 'Lamanite' children and assimilate them into their culture reflects teachings in the Book of Mormon, a book of canonized scripture unique to the Mormon religion."

LK claims that in 1978, he was placed with a family in Roy, Utah, and sexually abused by his foster father. LK alleges that he disclosed the sexual abuse to LDS officials, including his caseworker, but was told to remain in the home until the school year ended. LK claims in the lawsuit he continued to be abused.

LK is the fourth person to file a lawsuit against the LDS Church alleging sexual abuse in the Lamanite Placement Program, and accusing the church of not reporting it to the proper authorities. It has taken abuse victims decades to work up the courage to come forward, their attorney, Billy Keeler said.

"It's horrible. You relive it up here," LK told FOX 13, motioning to his head. "You see the person that did this. You see the silhouette, the fear, the hurt."

At a news conference Tuesday, the group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) had harsh words for the LDS Church, calling for it to do more to stop abuse and to involve authorities when a sex abuse victim discloses their abuse.

"Quite frankly the program, while well intentioned, had to be considered a pedophile's dream," said SNAP director David Clohessy.

The LDS Church has made statements about how it has toughened its reporting requirements and how it tracks people accused of abuse.

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has zero tolerance for abuse of any kind and works actively to prevent abuse. We have not yet seen the lawsuit and therefore cannot comment on any specifics. The Church will examine the allegations and respond appropriately," LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in an email to FOX 13.

The LDS Church has been fighting to keep the lawsuits out of Navajo Nation courts, arguing it is not the proper forum. In court filings, LDS Church lawyers have argued the alleged abuse took place in Utah which is where the case should be heard. They've filed for a restraining order to block the Navajo courts from hearing the case.

Lawyers for the alleged victims are trying to keep the cases in tribal court. LK's attorney, Craig Vernon, acknowledged there is a statute of limitations issue in Utah.

"We would file it and it would be thrown out of court before the ink even got dry," he said. "We just cannot maintain a case here in Utah under the existing statute of limitations."

The attorneys for the alleged victims will respond to the LDS Church's restraining order request. A federal judge is expected to have a hearing on it later this year.

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