Paul Turley was only 11 years old in 1977, a year that changed the rest of his life.
But it took 42 more years before he came forward with what he says happened to him back as a Boy Scout – a secret he says no one should have to live with.
In sharing that secret, Turley says he’s doing it not only to get justice for himself, but to protect other children.
Turley filed a lawsuit in California this week – action made possible by new laws that give him and other victims a chance to have their allegations of past sexual abuse heard.
In 1977, Turley’s favorite movie was “Planet of the Apes.”
His favorite snack was Funyuns.
His favorite pastime was riding his BMX bike and doing wheelies down the street.
His best buddy was Steve, who lived in the same neighborhood in Santa Monica, California.
Steve was joining the Boy Scouts and encouraged Turley to join with him. Turley signed up. He met the scoutmaster, who called himself Michael Ross.
But Turley needed one more thing: a uniform. He had no idea that not having one would be the beginning of the end of his innocence.
Turley’s parents hadn’t bought him a uniform, so he was relieved when his scoutmaster said he had some used ones available.
But there was one caveat.
“In order to get one of those uniforms, you had to go over to his apartment and change,” Turley said.
He says the scoutmaster told him not to be shy.
“We’re all guys here. It’s OK. You can change in front of me,” Turley remembered the scoutmaster saying.
Turley said as he tried on the uniform, the scoutmaster suddenly thrust his hands down Turley’s pants, saying he was just trying to help him get the right fit.
Instead, he says the man he knew as Ross kept touching his genitals.
“I left there just sort of stunned,” Turley said.
He rode his bike home, just a few blocks away, and then stayed silent.
“I just put it into the back of my mind and tried to forget it.”
That first time would be followed by two more, uncomfortable, awful sessions of unwanted touching, Turley said.
It turned out that the scoutmaster of Troop 222 in Santa Monica was a fugitive from the state of New York, where he was wanted on child molestation charges, according to a 1977 Santa Monica police report. Between 1960 and 1971, this same man had been arrested in New York for “nine offenses relating to child molest(ation), including sodomy,” the report said.
And his name wasn’t Michael Ross – the name he registered with the Boy Scouts of America. His name at birth was Alan Hirsch Grossman, but he later legally changed it to Alan David Peter Bagration, court documents show.
Previous allegations of child sex abuse
Turley had no idea of his scoutmaster’s history until Michael Ross’ name made the local paper.
He remembers the phone ringing before school. It was his best friend.
“Steve called me. He said, ‘You’ve got to hear this.’ And he read me an article about the scoutmaster being arrested for child molestation,” Turley said.
A few days later, he was called to the principal’s office at school. The FBI had obtained permission from his mother to interview him.
Turley said the agents were nice, but he couldn’t help feeling intimidated. Had he done something wrong, Turley wondered?
So he lied to the FBI, not wanting to admit what had happened.
“I was just shocked about it, and a bit scared I think,” Turley said.
Other children did come forward to the Santa Monica police. In handwritten statements, the disturbing details of their accusations are spelled out. Some boys told police they were molested orally and anally, and that Ross had taken nude pictures of them, according to court documents.
Investigators also obtained photographic slides showing children being molested in what was purported to be the scoutmaster’s previous residence in Venice, California, according to the Santa Monica police report.
Ross, who was around 40 at the time, was charged with several counts of child molestation, and eventually pleaded guilty to three of the charges, which involved three boys under the age of 14.
“I think that Mr. Bagration’s history of criminal behavior does furnish a sound basis for the belief that he is a compulsive pedophiliac and if allowed his freedom would again prey on young boys,” said Judge Charles Woodmansee, according to a transcript of the proceeding on November 3, 1977.
Ross was sentenced to prison “for the term prescribed by law,” the transcript said, but was paroled in 1981. His parole was suspended for a violation and he was arrested in 1995, sent to prison and released later that year, according to court documents.
Following his arrest in 1977, memos were flying between the local Boy Scouts field director and Boy Scouts Headquarters about the scoutmaster they had allowed to head Troop 222.
In one of them, sent on May 4, 1977 – a week after Ross was arrested – the field director recounted a discussion he had with a Los Angeles police officer investigating the case, according to the field director’s memo. The officer suggested that the Boy Scouts should have known about problems with Ross two years previously, when they were told by a person whose name was blacked out in a copy of the memo and by a local school principal about issues they had with him.
The field director said they had asked to get a signed complaint of any charges that were made against Ross, but they never received a complaint so no action could be taken at that time.
By July, a Boy Scouts of America file marked “confidential record sheet” shows they obtained a record showing Ross, under his real name, had three convictions – all for child molestation – between 1960-1971.
Parents were informed Ross would no longer be scout leader two days after he was arrested on the child molestation charges.
But Turley said that was too little, too late. He is among dozens of former scouts initiating lawsuits against several as of now unnamed defendants. As for Turley’s alleged abuser, New Jersey death records show that a man matching his birth name and birth date died in 2017 at the age of 84.
A growing number of ‘look back’ laws across the country
The suit comes as the result of a new law in California that suspends the statute of limitations to report allegations of childhood sexual abuse or file a lawsuit during a three-year window that began on January 1. It also allows victims to file civil lawsuits until age 40, or five years from the time the abuse was discovered. But California’s new law also requires a court order to approve naming the Boy Scouts of America or any other possible defendant in decades old allegations. The court has not yet ruled on whether to add the organization as a defendant to Turley’s suit.
Attorneys for Turley say the Boy Scouts have known they have had a problem for years. In the lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, the suit says, the Boy Scouts kept so-called “perversion files” on potential sexual predators who were in the organization going back decades.
“The Boy Scouts routinely turned a blind eye to people just like Michael Ross all across the state of California. And they enabled these perverts to abuse these children time and time again,” said attorney Spencer Lucas of Panish, Shea & Boyle, who represents Turley. The law firm says it has 25 other clients also suing the Boy Scouts of America (BSA).
The organization sent CNN this statement, in which it apologizes for anyone harmed during their time in scouting.
“The BSA has taken significant steps over many years to ensure that we respond aggressively and effectively to reports of sexual abuse. We believe victims and remove individuals based on only allegations of inappropriate behavior. We recognize, however, that there were some instances in our organization’s history when cases were not addressed in a manner consistent with our commitment to protect Scouts, the values of our organization, and the procedures we have in place today.”
The organization also addressed questions about the “perversion files,” saying that its files have been misrepresented over the years. Before modern criminal background checks, the BSA said it maintained files to prevent individuals accused of abusing youth from re-entering their programs.
California is one of the latest states to implement these so-called look back laws. This year, North Carolina opened a two-year window for victims of childhood sex crimes to file civil claims against their alleged abusers. In 2019, New Jersey did the same, while New York removed its statute of limitations for child sex abuse victims to file claims for a one-year window. In all, eight states and Washington, D.C., have passed “look back” laws since 2018, according to an Associated Press report.
The move ushered in hundreds of lawsuits against organizations such as schools and the Catholic Church, as well as individuals such as the now-deceased multimillionaire and convicted pedophile, Jeffrey Epstein.
While some of the organizations implicated shudder at the potential financial destruction that could befall their institutions, accusers say this is their chance to right past wrongs.
More important, Turley says, is the ultimate goal of keeping other children safe from sexual predators lurking in organizations such as the Boy Scouts.
“How dare they be reckless with children. That is just not forgivable. That cannot happen again,” Turley said.