A West Linn doctor accused of sexual abuse by more than 100 women and children was not charged with any crimes. That’s despite him having lost his medical license over some of the same claims. When a grand jury was presented with the evidence gathered by police and prosecutors in Clackamas County earlier this year, they decided it was not enough to justify charging the former doctor. The alleged victims of the abuse say that’s because local agencies did not do everything they could to secure charges. OPB reporters Amelia Templeton and Conrad Wilson tried to find out why. Templeton joins us with the story.
Note: The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.
Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB, I’m Dave Miller. A former West Linn doctor accused of sexual abuse by more than 100 women and children was not charged with any crimes. That’s despite David Farley having lost his medical license over some of the same claims. When a grand jury was presented with the evidence gathered by police and prosecutors in Clackamas County earlier this year, they decided it was not enough to justify charging Farley. Now, the alleged victims of the abuse say that’s because local agencies did not do everything they could to secure charges, and they want state prosecutors to step in. OPB health reporter Amelia Templeton and justice reporter Conrad Wilson had been digging into this story. Amelia joins us now to talk about it. Welcome back.
Amelia Templeton: Thank you.
Miller: I think we should start with the allegations against David Farley. But first, a warning that this is necessarily going to contain descriptions of alleged sexual assault and child sex abuse. Can you give us a sense for what his alleged victims have said?
Templeton: Yes. I haven’t spoken directly with the victims, but I’ve spoken with one of their attorneys and read court filings and the letter that they’ve written about the lack of charges in this case. They say that, for many of them, their abuse started in their early teens, around 13, when they claim Farley began conducting repeated and unnecessary pelvic exams, often without wearing gloves.
Patients also allege that Farley made sexual comments during those exams, in some cases that he also touched their breasts. And while for many patients the abuse started allegedly around their teenage years, in other cases, there are allegations involving much younger children. For example, one allegation in the civil suit is on behalf of a child who was reportedly subjected to multiple pelvic exams between the ages of one and four. Current medical standards don’t recommend routine pelvic exams for women under 21.
There were other red flags that these weren’t normal exams, the alleged victims say. He would tell patients he needed to break their hymens, for example. He’s also accused of sexual abuse that took place while he was seeing patients during labor and delivery.
Miller: Farley wasn’t just a doctor. He was a leader for multiple congregations in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. What have his former patients said about the role that these leadership positions played in his alleged abuse?
Templeton: Some of them said that they met him through the church, through the church community. And that was one reason that they trusted him. And that was another factor, along with his medical credentials, that made it hard for them to understand what was happening to them as abuse, and to question the medical necessity of what he was doing.
Miller: Before there was a criminal investigation, the Oregon Medical Board did their own investigation. What were you able to learn about the results of that?
Templeton: The Oregon Medical board investigated Farley in response to a complaint. We haven’t been able to see their full investigative file because Farley sued successfully to keep aspects of that investigation from becoming public. But we do have several documents that summarize what the Oregon Medical Board found, and some of the interviews that they did with him.
They concluded that Farley had given multiple patients under 18 years old penetrative pelvic exams that were not necessary and had no legitimate medical purpose, that he had also given people diagnoses without proper documentation or workups or investigations, and that all of this behavior constituted sexual exploitation of his patients.
The medical board also found that he had photographed the genitals of patients who are under 18 years old under the guise of a study into puberty. And this was something that Farley, according to the medical board, admitted to doing in the case of at least five patients who were under 18. He said that he had destroyed the photographs he’d taken, he had destroyed the records related to this study. And the medical board concluded that all of his behavior in that situation violated many ethical norms, essentially conducting an unnecessary study that compromises patients’ privacy, and then destroying any evidence of what he’d done. And they were clearly extremely skeptical that that study served any purpose other than Farley’s gratification.
Miller: You ended up doing a number of interviews with the Clackamas County District Attorney John Wentworth. How did he explain the grand jury’s decision not to indict Farley on any charges?
Templeton: Wentworth said that, while on the face of it, it appeared that this was a case with very strong evidence, you have to understand this in the context of the grand jury proceeding and what its purpose is, which is basically to ensure that prosecutors are careful with their power to bring life changing criminal charges, even if it’s not something that leads to a conviction against somebody. He said that there were a number of challenges in this case in spite of all of the victims who came forward to testify.
One challenge was a lack of physical evidence. Another challenge was that they can’t simply tell a grand jury, because of evidentiary rules, that the Oregon Medical Board has stripped this person of his license because they found that he engaged in sexual misconduct.
He really spelled out though the core issues in this case, and how they relate to how this all happened in the context of medical care. And we have him in his own words talking about that:
John Wentworth: Well, the three biggest challenges were consent by patients. Please don’t accept this as victim blaming, that’s not what I’m doing. I’m just telling you what the legal challenge is. Many of the patients consented to these procedures. Some of the patients’ parents consented to the procedures on behalf of their children. That’s one challenge.
The second challenge is that he was a doctor performing ostensibly medical procedures. I keep talking about the burden of proof, but it’s it’s important to prove not just that he engaged in a behavior, but that it was for sexual gratification and not for a medical purpose. That we can overcome his defense of “Look, I’m a doctor. I’m doing doctor things.” And we didn’t, according to the grand jury, have that evidence.
And the third challenge was the statute of limitations.
Templeton: So when he says statute of limitations, in criminal cases, there’s a limited amount of time after a crime occurs that you can press charges. And in this case, Farley’s alleged abuse took place over about 30 years, and they were limited, they said, to the roughly 15 to 12 most recent years of incidents.
So that’s Wentworth’s explanation of what happened. We did look at a lot of public records and try to figure out was there anything else that they missed in this presentation to the grand jury.
Miller: One of the things you did was seek records to get back and forths between Clackamas County prosecutors and an investigator who worked for the Oregon Medical Board. What did you find?
Templeton: Yeah. We were interested in this question of how much of the evidence that the medical board had that they found so compelling made it before this grand jury.
What we were able to learn was that the West Linn Police Department did get access to the full investigative file that the Oregon Medical Board had. But the investigator who had conducted this investigation, who had presumably spoken with Farley, did not end up testifying before the grand jury. And he was actually somebody who was subpoenaed to show up in court, and just due to a scheduling mistake, missed his original date to appear before the grand jury. When it came to following up and trying to find another time for him to come in, at that point, attorneys with the Oregon Department of Justice, who do legal work for the Oregon Medical Board, intervened and started to try to negotiate over his testimony, and we are told ultimately shut it down.
Miller: Has the Oregon Department of Justice explained their role in shutting it down in preventing this Oregon Medical Board investigator from testifying in front of the grand jury?
Templeton: They have not. We asked them, and they declined to comment on what their concerns were.
Miller: What did you hear about all of this from the lawyers representing the alleged victims?
Templeton: They are deeply skeptical of the argument that the reason the grand jury did not end up bringing charges against Farley was because of the underlying lack of evidence in the case, or the sort of legal weaknesses here. And they have a counter explanation. Basically, this was a big, complex, difficult case, outside of law enforcement’s comfort zone, with a formidable opponent in Dr. Farley. And the investigators and the DAs didn’t do their jobs. They essentially say this was mishandled from the start. And we have Courtney Thom, who is a plaintiff’s attorney, explaining to me how she really thinks the fact that Farley was a doctor changed the way this case was handled.
Courtney Thom: They were met with that sentiment at every stage of the investigation and the prosecution, even up to the eve of when some of these women were testifying at the grand jury. That “Okay, I know what you’re saying, I understand. But you know, it’s really difficult to prosecute a doctor.”
And that sentiment colors exactly how they viewed and handled this investigation. They didn’t want to do it!
Miller: I can’t help thinking about the echoes here from the case against former USA gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. He abused gymnasts in his care for years before being successfully prosecuted, found guilty. Some of the allegations against him seem very similar to what you were talking about with David Farley. So from a prosecutorial standpoint, is it clear why charges were brought against Nassar, but not Farley?
Templeton: No, I don’t think it is clear at this point. But I will point to a few things. One is that when Nassar was eventually criminally charged, that was at the end of many years of various people knowing that something was wrong, and an unsuccessful attempt at criminally charging him in 2014. And often with sexual abuse cases, it takes a long time before victims actually get their day in court. So in some ways, I think there are parallels, certainly in terms of that.
And then the second thing I would point to is in Nassar’s case, they ultimately found physical evidence of child pornography. And some people have argued that that physical evidence changed how law enforcement viewed all of the victims who were coming forward.
Miller: 71 women and children are now asking the Oregon Department of Justice, which stepped in to actually prevent that investigator from the Oregon Medical Board to testify, to intervene now. What could the agency do?
Templeton: The plaintiffs’ attorneys have said the agency can step in and basically re-investigate this case, and ensure that some sort of charges are brought against Farley. We asked the Oregon DOJ if they have that power, and if they’re in the position to do their own investigation. And they said that they weren’t sure, and they would check on that for us. We still don’t have an answer.
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