01.15.21

Judge orders IHS to release report on doctor's sexual assaults

A federal magistrate judge has ordered the Indian Health Service to release the report it commissioned on how the agency failed to protect Indigenous children from Stanley Patrick Weber, the doctor who sexually abused boys on the reservations in Montana and South Dakota for decades.

The report includes interviews with South Dakotans and might identify the people and practices responsible for the Pine Ridge IHS failing to properly respond to reports of Weber's behavior.

The Journal and other media outlets requested the report under the Freedom of Information Act, but the IHS denied the request, arguing the report was exempt from FOIA since it's a “confidential medical quality assurance record.”

Gabriel Gorenstein, a magistrate judge for the Southern District of New York, forcefully rejected that argument.

“The entire report is entirely and exclusively about criminal conduct unrelated to medical care and the failures of the agency in detecting and preventing that criminal conduct. There is literally nothing in the report that could be characterized as an assessment of the quality of the medical care provided to IHS patients,” he wrote in his Wednesday order.

Weber, 72, is serving five life sentences at a federal prison in Phoenix after a jury at the federal courthouse in Rapid City found him guilty in September 2019 of sexually abusing four boys as young as 9 between 1999 and 2011 at the IHS and his home in Pine Ridge.

The former Spearfish resident was also convicted by a Montana jury in September 2018 for sexually abusing two boys on the Blackfeet Reservation where he worked at the IHS in Browning from 1992-1995 before going to Pine Ridge.

The IHS commissioned the report between the two trials and immediately after a February 2019 investigation from The Wall Street Journal and Frontline showed that accusations about Weber sexually abusing boys circulated among his co-workers, patients and the wider community when he worked at both IHS locations. Some complaints were ignored and not investigated, while others resulted in investigations that cleared him of any wrongdoing.

The report was ordered by IHS leader Rear Adm. Michael Weahkee, who was appointed by President Trump and will be resigning Jan. 20, according to a Jan. 13 article in the Wall Street Journal and on the Frontline website.

The IHS awarded the $618,000 contract in May 2019 to Integritas Creative Solutions, a company run by a former U.S. Marshal based in Montana.

Integritas interviewed IHS workers, patients, law enforcement and others to review sexual abuse incidents from 1986 to 2018 and “identify any possible process or system failures” in preventing and stopping abusers, according to the judicial order. The company also made recommendations about preventing abuse in the future.

The Journal and other outlets requested the report once it was finished in January 2020, but the IHS argued it was confidential. The Wall Street Journal and New York Times filed a FOIA lawsuit to force the IHS to release the report.

Gorenstein sided with the newspapers, saying that although the report is labeled an “internal medical quality assurance review” it doesn’t actually meet the definition of one.

“The term 'medical care' hardly appears in the report, and never in relation to the assessment of medical care that was given to any patient,” he wrote. “The report is about sexual abuse of children by an IHS doctor — what happened to them, how employees of the IHS and others allowed it to happen, and actions that might be taken to prevent it in the future.”

The IHS also argued that releasing the document would having a chilling effect on people’s decision to be interviewed in the future since they thought the information they shared would be kept confidential.

The judge said there’s no proof that Integritas told people that its interviews were confidential. He cited testimony from Mark Butterbrodt, a Martin resident and former pediatrician at the Pine Ridge IHS who tried to report Weber, who said Integritas never told him that his interview was private.

Gorenstein ordered the IHS to release the report within 14 days and said the agency can redact any personnel or medical files mentioned in the document.


By:  Arielle Zionts
Source: Independent Record