A 23-year-old Seattle-area man was awarded nearly $5 million yesterday for civil-rights violations that occurred when religious "deprogrammers" took him from his home and tried to persuade him to leave the United Pentecostal Church.
Federal-court jurors delivered their verdict yesterday after deliberating eight hours, ending a trial that began when Jason Scott sued deprogrammer Rick Ross, Ross' associates and Cult Awareness Network (CAN), a Chicago-based group that monitors cults.
Scott's mother, Kathy Tonkin, contacted CAN in 1991 when she became worried about her son's membership in Bellevue's Life Tabernacle Church, affiliated with the United Pentecostal Church.
After consulting with CAN, she hired Ross. He and others took Scott to Ocean Shores, where Scott claims they held him in a room and for five days verbally attacked him and tried to force him to renounce his faith.
The nine-member jury decision overwhelmed him, Scott said.
"I feel great," he said as friends near him cried. He said he thought the amount of the award was justified.
"This is something that will stick with me every day of my life," he said. "It's torn apart my family."
Judge John Coughenour pronounced the verdict "quite reasonable."
Scott, who now owns a window- and carpet-cleaning business, said he will use the money to build a comfortable life for himself and to help people.
One-third of the $4.8 million will go to his attorney, Kendrick Moxon, longtime legal counsel to the Church of Scientology.
Scott said he is not a member of the Church of Scientology.
Moxon said he thought the decision and the large award for punitive damages set an important precedent and would deter other religious deprogrammers.
He said such cases are rarely brought to trial because they often involve family members.
CAN leaders have said that the Scott lawsuit is part of a legal campaign backed by the Church of Scientology to harass the network organization and people involved in deprogramming cult members.