Two file lawsuit against church, ML&P alleging child sex abuse
WAILUKU – Two Utah men are suing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Maui Land & Pineapple Co., alleging they were sexually molested as boys in the late 1980s after they were recruited to pick pineapples on Maui.
The complaint, filed Wednesday in 2nd Circuit Court, alleges that Kyle Spray and Jake Huggard were sexually molested from 1986 to 1989 by a man who was assigned to oversee the pineapple camps where the boys worked and lived.
Spray, now 42, and Huggard, now 41, were among boys recruited for the pineapple jobs by the Mormon church and Maui Land & Pineapple Co. in the 1970s and ’80s, according to the lawsuit. The pineapple camps, where boys lived and worked, closed in the early 1990s.
“There were hundreds of boys over more than a decade cycled through these camps,” said Honolulu attorney Randall Rosenberg of Rosenberg & McKay, which is among the law firms representing the men. “Hundreds were exposed to the alleged sexual predator in our case. We do not know how many others may have been molested, but our experience is that child sexual predators with access to kids have multiple victims.”
“We are asking for anyone with knowledge about sexual abuse at these camps to come forward,” added attorney Charles McKay.
The lawsuit also names as defendants Youth Developmental Enterprises Inc., a Utah corporation that recruited teenage boys from Mormon wards for the pineapple jobs but that has been inactive since 1996; and the man who allegedly molested the boys and now lives in Idaho. At the time, the man was an employee of both Youth Development Enterprises and Maui Land & Pineapple, where he was promoted to vice president of operations in 1988, according to the lawsuit. The man also was promoted by the Mormon church to be a member of the Stake High Council for the Kahului Hawaii Stake of the church, the lawsuit says.
The man “used his position over our clients as their supervisor and religious leader to gain access to the boys and manipulate them,” said Idaho attorney Craig Vernon, who also is consulting on the case.
“The (Mormon) church marketed this as a safe, wholesome and exciting adventure; fly to Hawaii and pick pineapples,” Vernon said. “That was extremely attractive to Mormon boys in Utah and Idaho in the ’70s and ’80s.”
According to the lawsuit, the alleged sexual abuse occurred at the Maui Land & Pineapple barracks in Kapalua while the man was camp coordinator of one camp housing up to 200 boys. The sexual abuse of Huggard allegedly continued at the man’s Upcountry home on multiple occasions after the boy was transported there when the man requested help at the residence from certain boys, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that the church and companies didn’t report the man to authorities or act to protect Huggard and Spray from further molestation “despite having knowledge of the pedophilic sexual violence perpetrated by” the man.
In a statement Thursday, Eric Hawkins of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has zero tolerance for abuse of any kind and works actively to prevent abuse. This case was filed yesterday, and many details in the legal complaint are unclear. The Church will examine the allegations and respond appropriately.”
Maui Land & Pineapple Co. didn’t immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment.
The lawsuit was filed under a Hawaii law providing a two-year window for child sexual abuse survivors to file lawsuits, regardless of when the abuse occurred. The window period expires in April.
In addition to seeking unspecified damages for Huggard and Spray, the lawsuit asks the church “to take concrete steps to prevent future abuse and for the healing of victims,” Rosenberg said.
Among measures sought is to have the church change its policies regarding reporting of suspected child sexual abuse by instituting regulations to report suspected abuse to police and child protective services, remove alleged sex abusers from exposure to children and cooperate with civil and criminal authorities in cases.
Seattle attorney Mark Leemon also is representing the plaintiffs.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.