By Richard Brenneman
Eugene Austin Evans, the Berkeley scoutmaster who sued the city after it refused a free berth to a Sea Scout ship because of the organization’s anti-gay policies, was arrested Tuesday on six counts of child sexual abuse.
Another 18 counts were added later by the Alameda County District Attorney’s office, charging ongoing acts with four youths. The crimes were allegedly carried out on the troop’s ship after scout meetings.
Berkeley Police Youth Services Detail investigators served warrants at several locations, including Evans’ home in Kensington, said Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, the department spokesperson.
Charges against the 64-year-old skipper of the S.S.S. Farallon include lewd and lascivious acts with a minor under the age of 14, oral copulation with a minor under age 16, sexual penetration by an object of a youth under age 14, and 18 counts of commission of a sex crime on a youth of 14 or 15 by an adult at least 10 years older.
After booking at the Berkeley City Jail, he was taken to the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, where he was initially held on $1 million bail—a figure reduced to $190,000 during his initial court appearance Wednesday.
Evans is due back in Alameda County Superior Court Friday to enter a plea.
The alleged victims range in age between 13 and 17, and police said the crimes took place over a period of years, “but they have yet to determine definitively how long Evans may have been molesting youths,” Kusmiss reported.
Berkeley Police declined to offer additional details of the crimes or to provide details of the child pornography recovered from Evans’s computer.
But, Kusmiss said, “We are quite confident in saying there is very strong evidentiary value to support what the boys are telling us.”
Jim Novosel, a Berkeley architect whose two sons have been members of Evans’s troop, said neither of them had any suspicion of the alleged crimes.
“My 14-year-old told me ‘no way,’” he said. Another son, a 19-year-old now attending Chico State, also had no inkling of anything amiss.
“Gene teaches them everything,” said the architect. “Engine work, steering, navigation.”
Troop members work every other weekend on the boat, a former World War II craft used to recover downed pilots, Novosel said. Troop members also take the craft out on the Bay and make two 10-day trips up the Sacramento River to the state capitol every year.
Novosel said the craft holds up to 40 youths at a time.
Police believe other youths may have been molested and are actively seeking to identify anyone who may been inappropriately approached by the scout leader. Sgt. Kusmiss asked anyone with information about Evans’s alleged crimes to call the Youth Services Detail at 981-5715. Callers may remain anonymous.
Berkeley officers said they found sexually explicit photos of children on the computer seized during their search of the scoutmaster’s home. One former troop member said he hadn’t witnessed anything himself, but added that he was uncomfortable with the atmosphere aboard the Farallon.
Both supporters and detractors of the scoutmaster posted online comments on the San Francisco Chronicle story of Evans’s arrest which appeared on that newspaper’s website, including several in his defense from people who claimed to be former members of his troop.
Current and former troop members and some parents came to Alameda County Superior Court to offer Evans support during his brief appearance Wednesday.
During many of the years he served as skipper of the scouting ship, Evans was also a teacher at Encinal and Alameda high schools in Alameda, where he and the Farallon had a second scouting group.
According to an Aug. 10, 2006, profile by conservative columnist James J. Kirkpatrick, Evans joined the Berkeley Sea Scout troop in 1957 at age 13, and had served as the skipper of the ship since 1971.
He became a hero of the political right when he filed a legal challenge of city policies that deny free city services to organizations which practice discrimination based on sexual preference.
The Sea Scouts are part of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), an organization which mandates religious belief as a precondition for membership and bars anyone who is openly or commonly known to be gay. Justification of the “don’t ask/don’t tell” policy is justified by the BSA’s National Council legal issues website as part of the obligated to be “morally straight” affirmed in the scout oath.
According to the BSA’s official position statement on diversity, posted on the organization’s website, “The Boy Scouts of America has selected its leaders using the highest standards because strong leaders and positive role models are so important to the healthy development of youth. Today, the organization still stands firm that their leaders exemplify the values outlined in the Scout Oath and Law.
“On June 28, 2000, the United States Supreme Court reaffirmed the Boy Scouts of America’s standing as a private organization with the right to set its own membership and leadership standards.”
The scoutmaster’s legal challenge had been celebrated by conservatives and hailed in hundreds of posts on web sites like Freerepublic.com and in stories on a large number of similar Internet forums and news sites. The conservative Pacific Legal Foundation championed Evans’ cause and took the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court after the California Supreme Court upheld the city’s decision in March 2006.
The BSA national council decried the city’s decision to charge for a marina berth, and charged that the state supreme court ruling upholding the city’s action “denied the Sea Scouts its First Amendment rights of free speech and association.”
But the nation’s highest court announced on Oct. 16, 2006, that it would not hear the appeal, leaving intact the state decision in the case of Evans v. Berkeley.
The state court upheld the city’s anti-discrimination policy, adopted in 1997, which barred free use of the Marina to any organization which discriminated on the basis of “a person’s race, color, religion ... age, sex, [or] sexual orientation.”
With the adoption of the anti-discrimination policy, the city ended a half-century policy of providing free berthing space to the scouts, but the city did not bar the scouts from using the marina on the same terms as other boaters.
While the BSA didn’t join Evans as a co-plaintiff in his suit against the city, it did file a friend of the court brief when he appealed to the state supreme court.
The BSA, declared the brief, “has an interest in seeing that its individual members and leaders ... are not subject to unconstitutional treatment by misguided government officials who forget that their role is one of scrupulous neutrality, and not one of censorship of private views.”
But in finding unanimously for the city, California’s justices declared: “We agree with Berkeley and the Court of Appeal that a government entity may constitutionally require a recipient of funding or subsidy to provide written, unambiguous assurances of compliance with a generally applicable nondiscrimination policy.
“We further agree Berkeley reasonably concluded the Sea Scouts did not and could not provide satisfactory assurances because of their required adherence to BSA’s discriminatory policies.”
Numerous conservative groups cited the decision last year in opposing Carol A. Corrigan and Joyce L. Kennard, the two State Supreme Court Associate Justices then up for reelection. Kennard, the first appointee of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, had also drawn ire from the right for endorsing same-sex marriage.
Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington said he was saddened by the news. He said he has been working with the members of the scouting movement in the hopes the organization “will change its discriminatory policies.”
It was former councilmember Diane Woolley who led the prolonged struggle to end the city’s policy of providing free berthing to the Farralon.
She said the issue began when she was serving on the city’s waterfront commission and was attempting to clean up the irregularities in leases at the marina.
“As a matter of law, the city can’t give anything away,” she said. So the relevant questions became what, if anything, Berkeley and its citizens received in return for waiving the berthing fees for the scouts, and whether the benefits, if any, were equally available to all.
The issue then became the scouts’ discriminatory policies which selectively denied the use of the boat to certain Berkeley residents.
After Woolley was elected to the city council, the commission voted to extend the lease for a year, but Woolley stuck to her guns, and the free lease was ended.
The lawsuit that resulted named Woolley personally as well as the chair of the waterfront commission, but the former councilmember said she didn’t learn she had been sued until a reporter called her.
A similar struggle just ended this week in Philadelphia, where the city is evicting the scouts from a city-owned building where they have held a low-cost lease since 1928.
The eviction comes six months after a 16-1 city council vote which ordered the scouts out unless they dropped their ban on homosexuals.
The scouting movement has been concerned about sexual abuse of youth in its ranks, and California is no stranger to scouting scandals.
In one highly publicized case in Santa Monica in the 1970s, an assistant scoutmaster admitted trading thousands of images of boys he had molested with other pedophiles.
Another Southern California scandal ended in the dismissal of officers from the Los Angeles Police Department’s Hollywood Division after they became involved with underage female members of the Police Scouts.
But the most notorious incident of recent years was the arrest of a national scouting official from Texas whose job had been to protect children from sexual predators.
Douglas Sovereign Smith Jr., the national BSA official who had chaired BSA National Council’s Youth Protection Task Force, was himself convicted of receiving and distributing child pornography.
The case began in November 2003, when police in Dusseldorf, Germany, arrested a man in that city for possession of child pornography, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Dallas.
A search of the German’s computer revealed images he had received from Smith—triggering an international investigation. An undercover German officer, posing as a kiddie porn collector, began working in cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigators.
On Feb. 3, 2005, a federal search warrant served on America On-Line turned up email video attachments he had sent of underage boys engaged in sexual acts.
A Feb. 22, 2005, raid on Smith’s Colleyville, Texas home, confiscated a computer which contained 520 kiddie porn images, including a video file and 111 sexually explicit images of boys under the age of 12. Investigators said none of the images appeared to be Boy Scouts.
Smith pled guilty to a single felony count and received an eight-year prison sentence on Dec. 5, 2005.