The Kernersville YMCA is asking a judge to dismiss a lawsuit alleging it failed to stop a former YMCA counselor from sexually abusing or assaulting a group of nine boys in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Attorneys for the nonprofit note changes in state law that legislators put in place that either eliminated or extended deadlines for people who want to file claims stemming from sexual abuse. The attorneys say those changes are unconstitutional and deprive Kernersville YMCA of due process.
Initially, seven men filed the lawsuit in February in Forsyth Superior Court against the man they allege sexually assaulted them — Michael Todd Pegram, who is now serving a maximum of 30 years in prison after he was convicted of numerous criminal charges in connection to the alleged sexual abuse. The lawsuit also named as defendants the Kernersville YMCA; the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina and the YMCA of USA. The lawsuit was later amended twice to include a total of nine plaintiffs. The YMCA of USA also wants the lawsuit dismissed.
Pegram, 48, worked at the YMCA as a counselor. He also worked as a volunteer firefighter, a DJ and a hockey coach. According to the lawsuit and prosecutors, he used these various jobs to lure young boys so he could groom then and then sexually abuse them. The lawsuit alleges officials at the Kernersville YMCA knew or should have known about the abuse and did nothing about it.
The YMCA’s attorneys focus on North Carolina’s SAFE (Sexual Assault Fast Reporting and Enforcement) Child Act, which Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law on Nov. 7, 2019. The law increases the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits based on sexual-abuse allegations. Under the law, people who say they were sexually abused when they were under 18 have until age 28 to file a claim. They also have two years to file a claim from the time their alleged sexual abuser is convicted in criminal court.
“In filing this Motion, the Kernersville YMCA is not minimizing or ignoring Plaintiffs’ factual allegations as to Defendant Pegram; rather, this Motion is based on constitutional principles which are the foundation of our legal system,” the attorneys, led by G. Gray Wilson, said in court papers.
The attorneys said that the Kernersville YMCA “has a vested constitutional right to freedom from civil liability after the existing statutory limitation or repose period on claims has already expired.”
“Here, the preexisting three-year limitation and ten-year repose periods applicable to Plaintiffs’ claims filed against the Kernersville YMCA have long since expired,” the motion says. “Even liberally construing the complaint, that pleading conclusively establishes that the events alleged therein occurred between 1991 and at the latest, 2005.”
State legislators can’t revive civil claims that had previously been barred by statute of limitations without “violating North Carolina’s substantive due process protections, particularly when such revival attempts to reinstate claims against this defendant that are 15 to nearly 30 years old solely in its role as an employer of Defendant Michael Todd Pegram.”
The lawsuit alleges that Pegram handpicked boys to be a part of what he called “Todd’s Thunderbirds.” According to the lawsuit, to be a part of “Todd’s Thunderbirds” was to be considered one of the cool kids.
Pegram took the boys on trips to the beach and to Disney World, “all with the apparent endorsement of Defendant YMCA NWNC,” the lawsuit said. The lawsuit also alleged that Pegram showed the boys pornography and encouraged the boys to skinny dip while he stole their clothes.
The lawsuit said that Bruce Boyer, former executive director of the Kernersville YMCA, and other administrators and employees knew or should have known about Pegram’s inappropriate actions. Pegram had the boys spend the night at the Kernersville YMCA, even though it was against policy.
“Following one of these improper sleepovers, Director Boyer found a photocopy of the buttocks of one of the Plaintiffs on the photocopier and gave it to Defendant Pegram, asking, “Is this what happens at your sleep-overs?”
Carrie Collins, senior vice president and chief advancement officer for the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina, said in late May that “while saddened to learn more about what these victims experienced more than 20 years ago, we are unable to comment on pending legal matters.”
A trial date for the lawsuit hasn’t been set.