New lawsuits filed against Hanna Boys Center as CA clergy sexual abuse law deadline approaches

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ByDan Noyes via KGO logo
Saturday, November 19, 2022
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New lawsuits have been filed against Hanna Boys Center in Sonoma, alleging child sexual abuse by the clergy as the state law deadline approaches

SONOMA, Calif. (KGO) -- More than a dozen new lawsuits have been filed against Hanna Boys Center of Sonoma by men who say they were abused by Catholic priests and staff there when they were children. We've been speaking to survivors, former staff, and officials now running the residential treatment center.

A state law that allows survivors of clergy sexual abuse to file lawsuits -- no matter how long ago it happened -- expires at the end of next month. As a result, there has been a rush of new complaints.

No question, Hanna Boys Center has done some good over the years, helping kids struggling with school or family life.

Paul Keschke reported in 1998, "The boys who range in age from 9 to 17 are treated firmly, but with respect."

VIDEO: Survivor of priest sex abuse speaks out as new CA law leads to many lawsuits

ABC7 News has covered the residential treatment center run by the Catholic Church, including a report from 1998 featuring Hanna's director at the time, Father John Crews, who said, "I tell the guys 'You're not a man yet, but you're gonna be.'"

But, the Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa just paid a large settlement to a man who says Father Crews and Hanna Boys Center staff sexually assaulted him over the course of three years, starting when he was 11. David Love tells the I-Team he still struggles with the memories: "I was in town and someone that looked like Father Crews was standing in line. I wet myself, and I couldn't move, and I left."

In 25 years of covering the clergy abuse crisis, I-Team has never heard an account of such horrific, depraved abuse. Love says to this day, he can't sleep because his attackers often came at night.

MORE: Report names 263 Catholic clergy accused of sexual misconduct in Bay Area

"You don't know what the nightmares are like waking up, not knowing where you're at. Thinking you're back there. I go through this every night, Dan. Every night," he said.

Love tells us the abuse was common knowledge among staff during his time at Hanna Boys Center. Dr. Tim Norman was clinical director then. He told the I-Team he had to fire staff for what he called "grooming behavior."

"Saying, oh, to a boy, you know, 'I can, I'd be glad to come in and give you a massage if you're so tense.' As soon as we heard that, and the boy would tell somebody, then he -- that person -- would be terminated," Norman said.

Norman says he never heard complaints that Father Crews had molested boys.

MORE: Lawsuit accuses California Catholic bishops of covering up sex abuse

"If I knew of anything, had any indication, the first thing I would have done would be pick up the phone and call law enforcement," he said.

Dan McNevin from the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests tells the I-Team, "Crews has now a long list of victims -- it's dozens. They keep coming out."

McNevin has been tracking the new lawsuits against Hanna Boys Center -- more than a dozen at this point.

He says, "You look at all the abusers who have run through there. It's a hotbed of abuse and nothing has really changed."

MORE: Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa releases names of 39 accused of child sexual abuse

McNevin counts at least nine former staff from Hanna Boys Center accused of child sexual abuse. The clinical director, Kevin Thorpe, got arrested in 2017 and is serving 21 years in prison for child molestation.

We asked the Bishop of the Santa Rosa Diocese, Robert Vasa, to discuss these issues, but he declined and referred us to Hanna Boys Center.

Hanna's new CEO, Cameron Saferloo, set a time for an in-person interview this past Wednesday but backed out. His spokesperson sent this list of steps they're taking, including:

  • New training for staff to spot signs of abuse
  • Additional security cameras on campus
  • Windows on clinical office doors can no longer be covered
  • GPS installed on all vehicles that transport the boys

MORE: Bay Area church abuse victim breaks silence more than 40 years later

"They're barely improvements, you know, you got a really, really high risk population going there with no power. And because they have no power, a pedophile who knows that will go there and break those rules and get what he wants," McNevin said.

A state law gives survivors of clergy sexual abuse until the end of next month to file lawsuits, no matter how long ago the abuse occurred. David Love's attorney, Michael Fiumara, tells the I-Team, "The message is to encourage others to really open up their eyes and say to themselves, 'why am I acting this way? Why have I gone to prison? Why am I this kind of person?' especially if they were there at Hannah Boys Center, and they were abused sexually?"

David Love agreed to keep the dollar amount of his settlement secret. In exchange, the process moved more quickly and he didn't have to testify in court.

MORE: I-TEAM EXCLUSIVE: Marin County man confronts past as Catholic priest accused of sex abuse

Now, he wants to send this message to parents: "Please believe your child no matter what. Don't ever say they're lying, let the doctor say they're lying -- my parents didn't do that. They kept sending me back to this place where I was abused."

Father Crews is now retired, living along a golf course in South Carolina. I reached out to him to address these accusations but did not hear back.

I'm posting important links on this story below. If you're dealing with these issues, please understand that help is available.

SNAP: Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

Allies in action: Local help with complicated issues

TAKE ACTION: Get help with sexual assault, rape, and abuse

TAKE ACTION: Get help with harassment, abuse and inequality

Suicide Prevention: Local resources for those in crisis

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