Salvation Army abuse case goes before jury

Posted: Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Attorneys presented closing arguments Monday in Kenai Superior Court in the civil case against The Salvation Army and a former Salvation Army minister convicted of sexually abusing minors while assigned to Kenai in the late 1990s.

A jury is expected to begin deliberations in the case today.

Calling The Salvation Army Church in Kenai a pedophile's paradise, Nelson Page, attorney for the victims, said the actions of former Salvation Army Capt. Troy Trickel shouts out The Salvation Army's disregard for the safeguards of children.

Trickel was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison after being convicted in 2001 on one consolidated charge of second-degree sexual abuse of a minor.

Three sisters and another girl say they were fondled by Trickel at the Kenai church on separate occasions in 1999. The girls and one of the mothers have sued Trickel, his wife, Debbie, and The Salvation Army.

The plaintiffs are suing for damages caused by Trickel, by the failure of his wife also an officer of the church to report the abuse and by the negligence of The Salvation Army in not taking action against Trickel when first being made aware of the children's claims.

The girls were 7, 8, 10 or 11 and 13 at the time of the alleged incidents.

"If the goal (in safeguarding children) is to not give access, if the goal is to make a difference for victims of molestation, Kenai was a textbook example of what not to do," Page said.

"(Salvation Army) headquarters' posture was to ride out the storm," he said of the church after it was notified of the sexual abuse allegations.

Kenai attorney Chuck Robinson, representing the Trickels, told the jury of 10 women and four men that the plaintiffs' claims for emotional damages so far exceed $4 million.

"I submit to you that the claim is exaggerated and overreaching seconds of alleged fondling equating to millions of dollars in damages," Robinson said.

He said Debbie Trickel was not required by law to report the allegations against her husband, and that she believed her husband when he said the physical contact was accidental.

"Debbie is not liable for anything," he told the jury.

"Troy is liable. He is liable for what he did to (two of the victims), but not to the tune of millions," Robinson said.

In defense of The Salvation Army, Los Angeles attorney Dan Woods said the jury needs to answer three main questions in the case: Did Troy Trickel touch any of the girls? Did any touching injure the girls? And is The Salvation Army liable for Trickel's actions?

He said the defense never questioned whether Trickel touched two of the girls, but one of the girls did not report any abuse until the mother hired lawyers to sue The Salvation Army on behalf of two of the other girls. He said she made up her story.

Woods said the fourth girl did not carry her burden of proof that Trickel touched her inappropriately.

All the witnesses in the trial agreed the girls did not require hospitalization as a result of Trickel's actions, Woods said.

The jury has listened to more than 40 witnesses in the case including psychiatrists, counselors on sexual abuse, Salvation Army officials and the victims, now all teenagers, who sat in the front row of the courtroom gallery behind their attorneys on Monday.

The lawyers also have presented reams and reams of documents as evidence in the case, which began the week before Thanksgiving.

Woods said much of the testimony about the amount of damages, including the costs of hospitalization the girls might need in the future and psychotherapy for them, is exaggerated and said much of the testimony consisted of lies.

"The reality is that no one has tried to help the girls," Woods said.

"They and their lawyers have spent a lot of money to build a case of claim against The Salvation Army.

"Mr. Trickel knew his acts were against the policies and purposes of The Salvation Army. Mr. Trickel's criminal conduct is the exact opposite of The Salvation Army's purpose and its mission.

"You must find The Salvation Army not legally liable for his behavior, which was to satisfy his own personal desires," Woods said.

In his rebuttal to the defense argument, Page said The Salvation Army has never taken the issue of sexual abuse of children seriously.

"The Salvation Army still doesn't get it. They still blame the victims. The Salvation Army has not changed a bit," Page said.

He told jurors that whatever decision they make will send a message to The Salvation Army.

"The message you should send is: If you choose to station a child molester in Kenai, you better be prepared to pay the consequences and take responsibility," Page said.

Judge Harold Brown was slated to give jurors instructions at 8:30 this morning before sending them into deliberations. Two alternate jurors will be excused before deliberations start.

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