Boys Allege Abuse At D.C.-Run Camp

By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 30, 2005

The boys of Cabin 11 remember their summer camp as a week of terror, punctuated by the screams of sexual attacks. Now they are reliving it in federal court, telling a jury of the nights they spent alone with a camper turned predator.

The families of two boys filed lawsuits alleging that the children were sexually abused by an older camper, saying the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation failed to protect them at the city-run camp. The District paid $371,000 to settle one of the cases. The other went to trial Thursday in U.S. District Court, where testimony resumes tomorrow.

So far, four boys, most of them now 14, have testified in graphic detail about what took place in July 2001 at Camp Riverview, a sprawling retreat at the southernmost tip of Maryland. As their counselors repeatedly left them alone, the boys told the jury, they tried to fend off the attacks, watched as their fellow campers were molested and were awakened at night by the screams.

The D.C. government has denied wrongdoing and contends that it had no way to foresee what happened. The trial is focusing on allegations of a camper, then 10, who witnesses say ran out of the boys' showers yelling for help and saying an older boy had tried to rape him. A male camp counselor punched the assailant in the chest and told him to stop, the witnesses said.

But when no adults were around, several campers told a jury last week, the older boy held the 10-year-old down and molested him. The campers gave similar accounts in depositions taken before the trial.

"When the counselors would leave us alone in the cabin, it would become a free-for-all," one camper said in a deposition.

"When this was happening, kids would be screaming and yelling things like, 'stop,' 'get off me,' " the camper added. "But none of the counselors were here."

Camp Riverview, on a Potomac tributary in Scotland, Md., is supposed to be a getaway for less fortunate District children who cannot afford expensive overnight outings.

The events reported in Cabin 11 prompted the St. Mary's County Sheriff's Department to investigate. The older camper -- 11 at the time of the alleged incidents -- was charged with second-degree sexual assault and perverted acts. Because juvenile court proceedings generally are not public, the outcome of the case is unclear. The Washington Post typically does not identify victims of alleged sexual assault or juvenile suspects.

In the lawsuit against the city, Robert A. DeBerardinis Jr., an attorney for the D.C. government, acknowledged in his opening statement to the jury that the case involved frightening allegations and that counselors never should have left the children alone. He called the case "serious" and "tragic."

But, DeBerardinis said, the District had no way of knowing that children were endangered in Cabin 11, even though the children contend they complained to counselors that the older camper was bullying them.

DeBerardinis said the children were not specific about sexual assault when they complained. He also argued that the 10-year-old had significant family and learning problems before the alleged attack. The 10-year-old has an attention disorder and was placed in a group home temporarily while his mother was trying to recover from alcoholism, the boy's attorney said.

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