BY: Richard L. Groffsky | IN: Medical Malpractice
The U.S. Indian Health Service hired Dr. Stanley Patrick Weber to care for Native American children at a government hospital in Montana. When claims of his sexual abuse surfaced, he wasn’t fired – instead, agency officials transferred him to another hospital in South Dakota, where sexual assault allegations persisted as he treated children there for more than two decades.
In a joint investigation, the Wall Street Journal and PBS’s Frontline reported disturbing details not only of Weber’s alleged predatory behaviors but also about how the Indian Health Service (IHS) seemed to neglect and ignore warning signs, silence whistleblowers, and permit him to continue treating kids “despite the suspicions of colleagues up and down the chain of command.”
Weber joined the IHS in 1983, working at facilities in Oklahoma and New Mexico before he was assigned to the Browning, Montana headquarters of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, in 1992. Suggestions of illicit behavior began almost immediately. Some administrators believed he was a pedophile and sought his removal. In 1995, Weber was asked to leave, indicating he “was planning to leave anyway after receiving threats.”
A month later, Weber reported to his next assignment at the IHS hospital in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, which serves over 17,000 members of the Lakota Indian population. It didn’t take long for accusations of sexual abuse to start. According to the WSJ-Frontline investigation, various allegations arose:
In 2018, Weber was convicted in federal court of attempted aggravated sexual abuse of a child, attempted sexual abuse of a minor, abusive sexual contact of a minor, and two counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child during his assignment in Browning, Montana. He will spend 18 years in prison.
Weber was also charged with ten counts of alleged sexual abuse said to have occurred during his time at Pine Ridge Reservation between 1998 and 2011. A trial to convict him on those counts is scheduled to begin today.
Equally, if not more shocking than Weber’s predatory tactics is the alleged negligence and willful disregard of the IHS and other officials – starting as early as 1992. Had someone in authority at the hospital properly evaluated his hiring and addressed reports of his misconduct, the physical and mental trauma he inflicted could have stopped. But as the Wall Street Journal-Frontline exposé demonstrated, the people with the power to act apparently turned a blind eye.
As detailed in the WSJ-Frontline report, in Montana the Browning Hospital personnel director told the CEO she saw Weber “hanging out with boys at a Pizza Hut,” and a doctor conveyed that “Weber told him he had arrived in Browning early so he could arrange a camping trip with his future patients.” Despite her initial suspicions, the CEO overlooked her misgivings. She told WSJ-Frontline reporters that “she didn’t know of any IHS doctor ‘who was ever fired, even if they had problems.’” Although she alerted IHS regional officials and Weber was asked to leave, he was not terminated.
The reporters also stated that in South Dakota, an IHS manager at Pine Ridge discovered that Weber had been investigated in Montana, but because there had been no charge or conviction, the hospital permitted him to practice.
The WSJ-Frontline article noted other examples of cover-up and willful ignorance. After two teenage boys claiming to have been assaulted by Weber broke into his home in November 2006, attacked the doctor, and stole money, the Pine Ridge Hospital CEO went to the emergency room to talk to Weber. Weber refused to answer the CEO’s questions or speak with the police. When the CEO informed his superior at the IHS regional office of the incident, the CEO was told he needed to obtain the superior’s permission to take the matter to law enforcement (the CEO then sought permission, but he never received a response). He later indicated that he decided not to circumvent his boss and contact the police for fear of losing his job.
In 2008, according to the reporters, another pediatrician at Pine Ridge filed a report with a South Dakota medical board that Weber “selectively cherry-picks young teenage boys in clinic,” allegations he later reported to the IHS. Both the Board and an IHS panel investigated, but neither resulted in any disciplinary action or termination. Weeks after a subsequent altercation with Weber in 2011, the pediatrician was reassigned to a remote facility in North Dakota and had his compensation reduced.
The pediatrician tried once more to oust Weber by making an anonymous email complaint to Pine Ridge’s new CEO. She claimed the complainant never followed up. In June 2017, the CEO was indicted for accepting a $5,000 gift from Weber.
There are widespread accusations that the IHS places a higher priority on physician staffing than protecting patients from harm. As the WSJ-Frontline article stated:
The IHS provides medical care for 2.3 million Native Americans, many of whom have no other access to health care. Because the agency has struggled to recruit medical staff and experienced leaders, especially at remote reservations, officials said they gave second chances to doctors who likely would have struggled to find work elsewhere. This includes some with histories of drug problems, criminal convictions and violence, the Journal-Frontline investigation found.
Because it is an unwanted physical contact, sexual abuse is considered a form of assault and battery. In the medical profession, strict standards prohibit doctors from engaging in sexual relations with a current patient. In those instances, the sexual assault generally constitutes medical malpractice.
Besides reporting physician sexual abuse to the police and medical licensing boards, the victim can seek justice in a civil lawsuit. But in cases like the Weber abuse, the victim may seek damages from the health care facility that knew or should have known of the doctor’s sexual abuse and failed to take measures to stop or prevent it.
Physician sexual assault lawsuits can be complicated and emotionally charged. If you have been sexually abused by a doctor, nurse, or other health care provider, don’t let your abuser’s behavior go unchecked. Please contact us today – conversations are confidential, and we will be sensitive to your situation.
View all posts byRichard L. Groffsky
Richard Groffsky focuses his practice on medical malpractice and personal injury litigation, and has represented victims of devastating brain injuries and birth injuries in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, South Carolina, and Georgia in significant brain injury and birth injury cases.