A Tennessee man filed a lawsuit Friday alleging that operators of the Kanakuk Camps in Branson lied to him and his parents while persuading them to sign a settlement over sexual abuse by a camp counselor.
The full story below from KTLO/Associated Press:
The lawsuit names Kanakuk Ministries, Kanakuk CEO Joe White, Kanakuk Heritage Inc., Westchester Fire Insurance Company and a John Doe.
A statement from Kanakuk says the company just received the lawsuit on Friday and does not comment on pending litigation.
“We will respond further if and when appropriate,” the company said. “In the meantime, we continue to pray for all those affected by Pete Newman’s behavior.”
Yandell was sexually abused while attending summer camp and other activities between 2005 and 2008.
The lawsuit alleges that Kanakuk officials claimed they did not know about Newman’s sexual abuse of children before his arrest, but the Yandell family later learned that was not true.
In December 2021, the conservative online news outlet The Dispatch reported that Newman’s supervisor, Will Cunningham, recommended in 2003 that Newman be fired due to reports of sexual abuse of children, including participating in various activities with children while naked, their “counseling ” in a hot tub and sleeping alone with children.
The lawsuit filed Friday includes an affidavit from Cunningham confirming he wanted Newman fired. Instead, White declined the proposal and promoted Newman to camp director, according to the lawsuit.
The family would not have signed the settlement and nondisclosure agreement if they had known Kanakuk officials had lied to them, Brian Kent, one of the family’s attorneys, said Friday.
He said company officials took advantage of the family.
“Because the Yandells were really trying to make sure their kid was OK and to make him better, it was a clear effort by Joe White and Kanakuk to advise them that this was something they needed to do. And they lied to them to get them to sign.”
The lawsuit is not a class action, but Kent said it’s possible more of Newman’s victims will file similar lawsuits because of the new information.
The Associated Press doesn’t usually name victims of sexual abuse, but Yandell is named in the lawsuit and has discussed his case publicly.
One of the reasons the family decided to file the lawsuit 12 years after the settlement was signed was to allow Yandell to “get his voice back and make his voice heard,” Kent said.
Newman is serving two life sentences plus 30 years in state prison after his 2010 sentencing on seven counts of sexually abusing boys while he was a Kanakuk counselor. The number of victims is believed to be in the hundreds, according to the lawsuit.