Missouri summer camp operators sued over abuse settlement

Nov 18, 2022, 2:31 PM | Updated: 2:48 pm

A Tennessee man filed a lawsuit Friday claiming that operators of the Kanakuk Camps in Branson, Missouri, lied to him and his parents while persuading them to sign a settlement over sexual abuse by a camp counselor.

Logan Yandell, 27, of Hendersonville, Tennessee, and his parents reached a confidential settlement with Kanakuk in 2010 that included a non-disclosure agreement after Yandell was abused by Peter Newman, who is serving two life sentences for sexually abusing multiple children while working for the Christian summer camps.

The lawsuit names Kanakuk Ministries, Kanakuk CEO Joe White, Kanakuk Heritage Inc., Westchester Fire Insurance Company and a John Doe.

A statement from Kanakuk said the company just received the lawsuit on Friday and does not comment on pending litigation.

“We will respond further if or when appropriate,” the company said. “In the meantime, we continue to pray for all who have been affected by Pete Newman’s behavior.

Yandell was sexually abused while attending the 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 prior to his arrest but the Yandell family later learned that wasn’t 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 because of reports of child sexual abuse, including participating in several activities with children while nude, “counseling” them in a hot tub and sleeping alone with children.

The lawsuit filed Friday contains an affidavit from Cunningham confirming that he wanted Newman fired. Instead, White overruled the suggestion and promoted Newman to camp director, according to the lawsuit.

The family would not have signed the settlement and non-disclosure agreement if they had known that 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.

“Knowing that the Yandells were really trying to deal with making sure their child is OK and getting him better, this was a clear effort by Joe White and Kanakuk to advise them this is something they should do. And they lied to them in order 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 generally does not name victims of sexual abuse but Yandell is named in the lawsuit and has publicly discussed his case.

One of the reasons the family decided to file the lawsuit 12 years after signing the settlement was to allow Yandell to “get his voice back and have his voice heard,” Kent said.

Newman is serving two life sentences plus 30 years in state prison after his 2010 sentencing on seven felony 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.

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Missouri summer camp operators sued over abuse settlement