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Teen sues DeMolay organization over molestation by leader

The lawsuit claims the boys organization knew or should have known about the sexual proclivities of one of its leaders.

By ANITA KUMAR

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- A teenager is suing a worldwide boys organization whose youth leader in St. Petersburg was sentenced to life in prison for molesting 14 teenagers he supervised.

The lawsuit claims the group, DeMolay, should have known John Shirley had a history of inappropriate behavior including providing drugs and pornographic movies to members and should not have been left alone with children.

DeMolay "knew or should have known of John Shirley's propensity for sexual contact with minors and knew or should have known of his actual sexual contact" with members, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court under the name "John Doe" to protect the name of the teenager who joined the group in 1997 when he was 15.

Concerns about Shirley surfaced a year before his arrest when fellow DeMolay leaders and Masons, the fraternal group that sponsors DeMolay, were told that Shirley took photographs of his St. Petersburg youth group "mooning" his camera at a Masonic camp.

Instead of removing Shirley from his voluntary position as a DeMolay Chapter Dad, national and state DeMolay officials said they investigated the complaints and concluded Shirley used "bad judgment."

"We warned him that's completely inappropriate," Jeff Speaker, executive director of DeMolay, said after Shirley's 1998 arrest.

In 1999, Shirley was found guilty of 27 of 36 felony charges and 13 misdemeanors, including charges he contributed to the delinquency of minors. But jurors found him innocent of some of the more serious sex charges he faced, including allegations that he raped some of the teens under his charge.

DeMolay is a fraternal organization for boys between 13 and 21, and has more than 1,300 chapters in the world, according to the suit. Officials at the headquarters in Kansas City, Mo., did not return a phone call Thursday.

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