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Sex abuse claimed at firehouse

Odenton volunteer committed suicide while police investigated

1-24-2008 Maryland:

Two former volunteer firefighters at the Odenton Volunteer Fire Company are suing Anne Arundel County, claiming they were molested by a now-dead company president while they were teenagers and that their superiors ignored pleas for help.

The men, who were unnamed in the lawsuit filed Friday in the county Circuit Court, claim Louis A. D'Camera, 41, a 26-year volunteer, sexually assaulted them, forced them to strip naked, and even sit on his lap.

Mr. D'Camera committed suicide in July 2005 - shortly after Baltimore City police caught him with an 18-year-old male prostitute and charged him with perverted practice. Anne Arundel County police also were investigating the volunteers' claims at the time of the suicide.

According to the lawsuit, the victims, who were 16 and 19 when the alleged abuse began, told their bosses at both the volunteer company and the county Fire Department, but were rebuffed and told to keep quiet. One of the two claimed company members spoke against him during a background check with a potential employer as retaliation for going to police, costing him the job.

"Everyone is trying to hush it up," the younger victim told The Capital, saying he spoke to former Chief Ronald Blackwell and some of his top deputies only to be turned away because it was a "company matter." "He (Blackwell) basically shoved it under the carpet,"

Chief Blackwell was not named in the suit.

The men are seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, claiming negligent retention and supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The older plaintiff also is alleging defamation.

Division Chief Michael Cox, a spokesman of the county Fire Department, said he could not comment about the specifics of the lawsuit, citing the ongoing litigation. He referred questions to County Attorney Jonathan Hodgson, who did not return a call for comment.

Chief Cox stressed that the department would not knowingly turn a blind eye to sex abuse allegations, even if it was among volunteers.

"Absolutely not," he said. "When any allegations of criminal misconduct arise we immediately turn those over to the county police."

Robert L. Rose, current president of the Odenton Volunteers and former vice president under Mr. D'Camera, said this morning he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment.

Joyce E. Smithey, an attorney for the men, declined to comment while her clients seek to proceed with the case anonymously.

Mr. D'Camera joined the department when he was 16, one of many family members who chose careers in law enforcement or public safety. He served as president of the department and held other official positions over the years.

At the time of his death, he was serving as the department's quartermaster - a paid position - and was sitting on the board of the Maryland State Fireman's Association. He was inducted into the Anne Arundel County Volunteer Firefighters Association's Hall of Fame in 2003.

Mr. D'Camera's portrait still hangs on a wall in the station.

The men told The Capital Mr. D'Camera was so popular they were reluctant to complain about the molestation when it happened.

"I didn't want everyone at the firehouse to hate me," the younger victim said. "This was the most powerful man in the fire house."

According to the lawsuit, the abuse began shortly after the teens joined the department in 2003 and 2004. The older one claimed Mr. D'Camera took him to his Piney Orchard apartment in 2003 and ordered him to undress and preform a sex act in front of him. Mr. D'Camera then told the teen not to tell anyone what happened or he would get the young man fired from his day job.

The lawsuit claims Mr. D'Camera assaulted the older victim about 15 times, usually on Sundays when they were alone together at the firehouse.

"It would be just me and Louie, or maybe someone in his clique," the older victim told The Capital.

Some of the assaults were witnessed by other volunteers, the suit claims.

The younger victim said Mr. D'Camera first molested him in 2004 inside an engineman's room while discussing his report card and why he was so shy.

According to the lawsuit, D'Camera told the boy to think of the most embarrassing thing he could think of to overcome his shyness and then told him to strip. He then told him to walk around the room naked and sit on his lap.

"I just thought he was being a smart ass," the boy told The Capital.

The older victim told a captain about the abuse as early as late 2003 or early 2004, only to be told not to tell anyone else and that he would handle the situation himself. Both men continued to take the issue to others in the department to no avail.

"If I could do it all over again... I would have gone to an attorney or trooper I trusted," said the older victim, who eventually talked the younger one into filing a police report with him in June 2005 - shortly after Mr. D'Camera was caught with the prostitute.

The men said they tried to stay on with the company for a few months after the suicide, but were repeatedly chided by other volunteers.

Mr. Rose and Volunteer Chief Charles Rogers told the man to "get over" what happened with Mr. D'Camera. They told him he should have kept his mouth shut.

"It's time for you to leave OVFC. Although largely unjustified, you have accumulated a lot of adversaries at Odenton," another volunteer officer wrote the victim in an e-mail according to the suit. "Your safety and reputation are potentially at risk."

The older victim resigned Jan. 20, 2006.

The younger one resigned from the company in July 2005, but returned in February 2006 after Mr. D'Camera's death. He left again in March of 2006, claiming members of the company were angry at him for filing a police report against Mr. D'Camera, the lawsuit said.

The victims filed police reports July 17 and July 18, 2005, respectively. Mr. D'Camera killed himself July 24 inside his car at the Harwood park-and-ride lot.

The lawsuit said Mr. D'Camera left "many" suicide notes, and admitted in one to assaulting the younger victim.

Police investigated, but closed the case upon Mr. D'Camera's death.

This wasn't the first time Mr. D'Camera was under investigation for molesting a volunteer. He was charged with third-degree sexual assault for allegedly fondling a 17-year-old volunteer at the Odenton company in 1998, according to the lawsuit. ..more.. by SCOTT DAUGHERTY, Staff Writer

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