Ernest Boland: Pillar of the Athens community and alleged child rapist
Editor’s note: In October 2012, after a lengthy court battle to keep them private, the Oregon Supreme Court ordered the Boy Scouts of America to release files naming nearly 1,200 volunteers accused of child molestation.
Among those listed is Ernest P. Boland, a prominent businessman active in the Athens community for decades. He recently passed away at age 88.
In the following four-month investigation by reporter Nick Coltrain, some of the abused speak publicly for the first time about the failings of a culture and system that protected a predator and others like him.
The story also examines the changing culture of sexual abuse and what safeguards are in place to protect the innocence of children.
Forty years ago, Ernest P. Boland, a successful businessman, on-again-off-again Boy Scout troop leader, and overall pillar of the community, kept a group around called Boland’s Boys.
They were barely teenagers and a shared interest in motorcycles brought them to his white-pillared home, said some of those who belonged to the group. And it was there Boland allegedly raped at least two of them.
But these accusations, as documented in a police report filed Christmas Eve and in interviews with victims and family of victims, would have likely gone no further in the legal process, even if the accused was still alive and even as these alleged victims and others come forward to tell eerily similar stories of boyhood victimization by Boland.
Boland, who died Feb. 7 at age 88 and was wheelchair bound, started sexually assaulting boys decades ago, according to court-released documents and victims. So much time had passed that the state statute of limitations prevented Boland’s prosecution, even though his alleged acts haunted the victims into adulthood.
“Probable cause may now be established, based on a reported and documented history of similar accusations against Boland from within the (Boy Scouts of America) and within a similar time frame,” an Athens-Clarke officer wrote in the police report filed in December. “However, in light of (the accuser’s) account, the crimes ... are not prosecutable at this time. Said offenses do not fall within even the widest limitation on a time period for which prosecution is allowed.”
Since the Christmas Eve report, another victim, Alan McArthur, filed a police report as well — also without hope of it going further than that. But for him, like the other, having it documented was as much justice as they could hope to get.
Banned but unreported
The earliest incident supposedly took place in 1961, when as a scoutmaster Boland forced a Boy Scout to perform oral sex on him. He allegedly continued to rape that victim until 1963, according to an internal Boy Scouts of America investigation written in 1977.
That report was released by order of the Oregon Supreme Court in October as part of a trove of documents, dubbed the Perversion Files, which the BSA kept to track those banned from volunteering with the organization.
Calls to Boland’s home upon release of the documents were not returned, nor was a note requesting comment left on his door when no one answered several knocks.
The Boland family attorney, Ed Tolley, said two days before Boland’s death that the alleged child rapist would not comment on the allegations.
The accusations of rape in the early 1960s came to light a decade after it allegedly happened, with the father saying his son first reported it during psychiatric counseling. Boland, with a different troop then, resigned before a troop committee could ask him to step down, according to the internal Boy Scout investigation. He cited health reasons.
The scout executive at the time hoped the resignation would resolve the situation, though “there was strong evidence that Boland had been involved with several Scouts.”
But when Boland wanted to establish a new troop three years after that resignation, all a scouting official wrote he could do was discourage the man. Boland had not been placed on the confidential file — the blacklist for the organization — or otherwise reported for his alleged actions. And it was between the two troops that he had Boland’s Boys. Among them was Mike, the boy who as an adult filed the Christmas Eve police report. According to that police report, he was sexually abused until 1975, when Mike and his family moved away from Athens.
According to the police report, Boland would “often expose (Boland’s Boys) to sex by showing the boys sexually explicit materials and by telling them about Boland’s own sexual activities.” The man started isolating Mike as a boy, calling him handsome and telling him he loved him, according to the police report.
The report lists the potential charges as aggravated child molestation, aggravated sodomy, enticing a child for indecent purposes and sexual battery.
According to the internal Boy Scouts investigation, Boland started lobbying to form the new troop in 1973. The scout executive wrote that he was able to discourage Boland until 1975, which is when Boland reportedly asked point blank, “Is my name on the Confidential List of B.S.A. and can you prevent me from becoming a scoutmaster?” The executive wrote that he continued to discourage him, but “had to admit that I could not prevent his registration.”
The new troop was chartered in 1975. About six months later, the father of the alleged victim from the 1960s reiterated his accusations, according to the Boy Scout files. He had also stated as many as 12 boys were involved, “but in every case, parents had determined not to come forward because of the potential for harm to their sons who were now adults with families.” The father ultimately made the same decision, given his son was 30 years old and a dentist at the time.
The Boy Scout’s investigator wrote “there was still concern that we could place charges that would hold up in a court of law.” It is unclear if it was an option they were seeking to pursue or concerned the parents would pursue such charges. The investigator could not be reached for comment. Public records requests to area law enforcement agencies turned up no records of law enforcement investigation or charges from the matter.
The Boy Scout investigator turned up more allegations, including that Boland had raped a 12-year-old who was a ward of his through the Clarke County Juvenile Court, according to the BSA documents. The investigator wrote that he never accused Boland outright, but the man nonetheless resigned a final time before being added to the blacklist. In a letter to his troop committee, Boland cited problems with his business.
Rev. Dr. James N. Griffith, pastor of Beech Haven Baptist Church, which sponsored Boland’s troop at that time, reportedly told the investigator that Boland had kept an apartment away from his home and without his family’s knowledge. Boland, an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve, also provided two scouts from broken homes with plane tickets to Maryland to spend the week with him in a motel, Griffith reportedly told the investigator.
In a recent phone interview, Griffith said his memory was shaky.
“It’s pretty hard to remember anything from 30 years ago,” but “something was done about (the reports) right away,” he said.
It was handled as a church matter and by church leaders, Griffith said, adding that pastors try to help people, not hurt them.
“They handled it in the correct way, as far as our church was concerned,” he said. “I’m sure they did the right thing for the church.”
When asked if they did the right thing for the victims, he said, “I’m sure they did that, too.”
He couldn’t say why law enforcement wasn’t involved and said the brunt of that responsibility should have fallen on the Boy Scouts commission. But he did think that Boland, after all these years, would want this matter from four decades prior buried.
“I would certainly think Mr. Boland, being a good man, I mean a churchman with a fine family, doesn’t want that noise disclosed,” Griffith said.
He’s not alone in that. A woman who answered the phone number listed for Mrs. Perry Sentell Jr., who was one of the people on the troop committee notified of Boland’s final resignation after he was blacklisted, said it wouldn’t help anyone to drudge up these demons.
“I think if it were just ignored at this point it would help a lot more folks,” the woman said before hanging up.
The other eight people on that list either couldn’t be reached or said they didn’t know anything about the accusations.
In an email shortly after the release of the confidential file in October, a spokesperson with the Boy Scouts of America noted that it mandates reporting suspected abuse to law enforcement. They also wrote that the “BSA believes confidentiality of the files helps to encourage prompt reporting of abuse.”
It does not seem law enforcement was entirely without suspicion of Boland. However, current law regarding accusations of child molestation make it impossible to know through public records requests just how much may have been known or what may have stopped any investigations before they developed into charges.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation apparently looked into Boland about two decades ago, but wouldn’t confirm or deny it. The Department of Human Services, Division of Family Children Services, through which Boland apparently took in foster children, likewise would supply no records.
Both requests, made through the state open records law, asked for any record referencing Boland. In denying the requests, both agencies cited Georgia law that exempts records from public disclosure if they pertain to child abuse.
GBI’s open records officer initially said a possible file had been found. But the final response to the records request states that it “does not confirm or deny any investigation of Ernest Boland. If an investigation alleging child molestation did exist, it would be exempt from release.”
The written request submitted to the GBI made no mention of child molestation.
Alan A. Cook, director of the University of Georgia’s law school’s prosecutorial clinic and a former district attorney, said he believes the policy reason for the law is to protect children making the accusations from having their names disclosed and also to protect adults who are falsely accused.
“If that is readily available to the public, some people might assume where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” he said. “... It’s hard to unring a bell.”
He noted that the law allows disclosure once charges are filed. Cook, who prosecuted 34 child sexual abuse cases, also drew from personal experience where allegations didn’t seem truthful. He said people should be protected from that, considering how easy it is to make a false claim. But more often, he said, it was the evidence that was lacking.
The law cited by GBI and DHS allows for a “laundry list” of agencies and individuals that would have access to the files even if they weren’t public, he said. It is unclear if GBI’s and DHS’s records would be related to each other. Cook said that when allegations of abuse against an individual do surface, it’s routine to look into that person’s background for similar allegations.
Mandated reporter laws also change the landscape, with it now being a crime for adults, through their job or volunteerism, in routine contact with children, such as coaches and teachers, not to report suspicions of abuse, he said.
“That’s another check and another safeguard,” he said.
But such a law didn’t exist at the time Boland allegedly abused boys in his charge.
It appears Boland had gone before a judge in Franklin County for allegedly showing boys photos of male sex organs while camping at Lake Hartwell, a former probation officer there, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said. However, no records detailing the charges showed up during a thorough search of the courts in Hart County. It is possible the documents were sealed.
The probation office there confirmed Boland had been on probation, though documents could not be released, a clerk there said. But the case stuck out to the former officer, especially after another probationer said Boland molested him as a boy. The officer also remembers it well because of Boland’s minor punishment.
“Basically nothing,” the officer said. “One year of unsupervised probation.”
Cook, the law professor, said it sounds like Boland possibly struck a deal under the first offender law, which allows defendants who plead guilty and complete probation to not be considered to have a criminal conviction. It would have still required the guilty party to register as a sex offender, though it’s unclear if charges would have been before registration was required or if the charges would have required it.
The law “does insulate the offender,” Cook said, and he would be surprised if it was used in the case described.
“It’s rare that it would be used in an adult public indecency case,” he said.
The probation officer said Boland’s reputation helped him secure it. Boland was a former chairman of the Athens-Clarke County Commission when it attempted unification in the early 1970s, a prominent business owner and was a member of the Advisory Board of the Clarke County Board of Education. The 1977 report blacklisting Boland from the Boy Scouts of America notes “the complicated part of this matter deals with the image the man portrays” to the community.
“He wouldn’t have gotten that deal anywhere else,” the probation officer said.
Boland’s attorney at the time was Nick Chilivis, an Atlanta lawyer whose accolades include successfully defending former federal Office of Management and Budget Director Bertram Lance against federal charges and successfully representing the University of Georgia Athletic Association in a trademark infringement dispute.
When the family of one of Boland’s alleged victims, also described as one of Boland’s Boys, confronted the man in about 2000, Chilivis wrote them a letter saying they should not contact Boland, whom he described as “my good friend whom I have known for 50 years.” They should also “seek advice concerning the Georgia law involving defamation,” Chilivis wrote.
In a brief phone interview, Chilivis said he has no recollection of that exchange.
The alleged victim died later after a life rife with substance abuse issues, which his mother alleges began after Boland used alcohol to seduce him.
According to a letter the mother and her victimized son wrote to Chilivis, the young man dramatically changed after the abuse started. The victim, who is not being named to protect his children and family, went from being “a son any parent would have pointed to with pride” to one who was admitted to a hospital for troubled teens because of his self-destructive behavior.
“This was the beginning of years of counseling and hospitalization for him, both for depression and alcoholism,” they wrote in the letter to Chilivis. “Because of the embarrassment, he never admitted to any of his counselors what his deep-seated problem was. This did not happen until many years later when he revealed it to us after he had been in a treatment center.”
In contacting Boland and writing the letter, they were following advice from the pastor of their church to “find a way to bring justice and closure to this part of (his) life,” they wrote.
Sally Sheppard, executive director of The Cottage, a sexual assault and children’s advocacy center in Athens, said alcohol and drug abuse is the most common way for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to cope with what had happened to them. It can be easier to be in a chemical haze than confront memories of abuse, she said. Such negative coping mechanisms make her more worried about the child victims she doesn’t see than the ones she does.
Aside from self-destructive behavior, the scars of abuse run deep, Sheppard said. It can induce post-traumatic stress disorder, bouts of depression and anxiety that stress them physically as well as mentally and invade every aspect of a victim’s life.
“It affects every facet of every relationship that they ever have,” she said, adding that she doesn’t only mean romantic or sexual relationships either.
She recommended those trying to push through such childhood tragedies seek out support networks of friends or family and seek counseling. Her organization can set victims up with therapists who specialize in the trauma they are trying to deal with. But that all depends on the victim being able to put words to what had happened to them.
Predators, especially those with years of experience, Sheppard said, can become very good at finding the perfect victim: Quiet and able to be persuaded by special attention. Some estimates have the number of victims in the triple digits, she said. It’s an assumption she makes for Boland, given the time frame in which the accusations began.
“Child molesters, especially ones that get away with so many victims over such a long time, they pick the perfect kid to go after and they do it time and time and time again,” Sheppard said. “I mean, they’ll have hundreds of victims until they get caught.”
In an interview, the mother said she didn’t know for decades about her son’s abuse. They never pursued legal action because of the statute of limitations. A lawyer friend had told them “you could spend every penny you have, you could lose you’re home, and still not win your case.”
So she spent years after her son told them of the abuse, after he died, after her husband followed soon after, praying to see Boland’s name in a headline connecting him to molestation.
“I don’t care if they put him in jail or what they do with him,” she said prior to Boland’s death. “I just want him revealed.”