Controversy sizzles over scouts' camp

Two boy scout troop leaders, one a University employee, face criminal charges and two multimillion dollar lawsuits for allegedly branding six teenage scouts with a phallic-shaped image on an Aug. 14 campout.

Scoutmasters Jean D. Gatzmeyer, 37, and Kenneth Willard, 19, both of Huntsville, Mo., were charged Aug. 19 with six counts each of second degree felony assault for the alleged brandings with a coat hanger. Gatzmeyer is a University extension employee.

The maximum penalty for each count is five years in jail and a $5,000 fine.

More heat was cast upon the fire Thursday when two lawsuits totalling $66 million were filed on behalf of victims Aaron Haley, 11, and Ronald Hunt Jr., also of Huntsville.

Haley's mother, Connie Haley, said she and her husband are changing lawers, so the lawsuit filed Thursday may be dropped to give control to a new counsel. "But we are planning to continue some sort of legal action," she said.

She also said she and her husband may join the other scouts' parents to file suits under one law firm.

Randolph County Sheriff Orville Price siad Wednesday two scoutmasters and seven scouts went on the Aug. 13-15 outing. He said Haley was the only scout to escape the alleged branding.

"He ran off as soon as the branding began," Walter Haley said, describing his son's ordeal. "They later went to him and told him that he didn't have to take the brand, but he wouldn't be able to go on any more camping trips.

"Then, just before they left on Sunday, Gatzmeyer pointed his finger at Aaron and said that 'if you tell your mother, I'll cut your balls off.'"

A police statement made by Michael Todd Williams, 14, said Gatzmeyer first suggested the branding at breakfast Aug. 14. About 4:30 p.m., the statement said, Gatzmeyer tooka coat hanger from Willard's car and molded it into the shape of a penis and testicles. He then heated it in a campfire and asked for a volunteer, Williams' statement said.

"I think they did it to prove their manhood," said Walter Haley, "to prove they weren't scared or chicken. Aaron also said that Gatzmeyer made it seem like a club initiation, an award for accomplishment."

Still thinking it was a joke, Ron Hunt volunteered, Williams said.

"Ronnie laid down and Gatzmeyer sa t on his legs" then Willard branded him on the upper right part of the arm."

They then proceded to brand four scouts on the hip, as well as a sixth, Scott Baxley, 12, when he returned that evening from a baseball game.

Williams said Gatzmeyer made several sexual references on the trip. He said Gatzmeyer talked of sodomy, oral sex, masturbation, and forced one scout to go skinny-dipping.

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