HONOLULU (CN) - In a case likened to the pedophile cases that rocked the Catholic Church, 25 men now in their 40s and 50s sued Hawaii's Kamehameha Schools this week for turning a blind eye to 27 years of sexual abuse by its paid psychiatrist.
The abuse occurred between 1957 and 1985 while Dr. Robert McCormick Browne was the exclusive school psychiatrist for male students, according to the complaint filed Jan. 19 in Hawaii's First Circuit Court.
All of the men suing were under the age of 16 at the time of their initial injury and lacked the ability to consent to either psychiatric treatment or Browne's sexual advances, the complaint states
"My brother's life was ruined by this situation," Blake Conant, representing his brother Christopher Conant's estate in the complaint, told reporters on Tuesday.
Blake Conant said his brother only shared his long-held secret with his family a month before his untimely death. The complaint states that 40 years ago when his brother was 12, Browne "gave Christopher Conant powerful narcotics and repeatedly sexually abused him."
That alleged abuse started the 12-year-old on a lifelong downward spiral that included drug and alcohol abuse and ultimately his death, the man's family says. Blake Conant led the group of plaintiffs at the press conference, who said "they now want consequences for Kamehameha Schools."
The school essentially consented for the students, many of whom were handed off by their families as boarding students from across the Hawaiian islands. Kamehameha operates boarding schools on the islands of Oahu, Maui and Hawaii, but the abuse at the center of the case occurred on the Oahu campus and at Browne's home and office.
Kamehameha Schools is primarily funded by an endowment honoring Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the great-granddaughter and last direct descendant of King Kamehameha I. Bishop's wish was to educate and protect all children of Hawaiian ancestry.
Along with the school and endowment trustees, the men's suit also names St. Francis Medical Center and Kuakini Health System where Browne also worked.
"For approximately 27 years Kamehameha Schools referred, transported, and submitted hundreds of its young male students to Dr. Browne at St. Francis Medical Center or Kuakini Health System for behavioral, psychological adjustment, evaluation, treatment or therapy from a weekly to twice-monthly basis," the complaint states.
The case was filed just under the wire of the statute of limitations set two years ago, when a subset of the current victims' complaint was dismissed so they could first meet a state requirement that they go before the Medical Inquiry Conciliation Panel before filing a lawsuit against health care providers. All 26 victims individually presented their descriptions of abuse to the panel.
"This is a suit to recover untold damages suffered by the 26 plaintiffs who were sexually abused by Dr. Browne, a pedophile who preyed on them when they were young and vulnerable children, fed to him by the very institutions entrusted to guard and protect them," the men say in their complaint.
They contend that defendants "provided Browne unchecked access to and authority over boys." Furthermore, "each institution utterly failed to take any steps to protect charges in its care to act upon the red flags which signaled inappropriate methods of psychiatric intervention by Dr. Browne," the complaint states.
Their suit describes the sexual acts and details of repeated abuse that Browne undertook in what he termed "psychiatric adjustments or treatment sessions" that the boys were forced to attend or face expulsion.
The school also approved Browne as a "dorm sponsor," which allowed him to take physical custody of students including plaintiffs from their dormitories and keep them in his home in Manoa for weekend.
During these "sleep-overs," Browne drugged and committed further sexual abuse against the plaintiffs and other students, the complaint says.
"He informed plaintiffs that these acts of molestation were a required part of therapy to ensure that their bodies functioned properly; assist with masturbation, a naturally occurring event with beneficial results; help them relax; and overcome their inhibitions," the men say in their lawsuit.
One victim, who was 13 and in eighth grade in May 1977, returned from a session with blood on his school uniform, undershirt and underwear, and feeling so ill and bleeding from his rectum that he went to the school clinic for help.
He told the clinic staff, the "house mother" for grades 7 and 8 and the directors of counseling and boarding, but none reported the incident to law enforcement or the State of Hawaii Medical Board, the suit claims.
The truth about Browne finally came to light in October 1991, when a former student - now an adult with a child of his own and haunted by what had occurred at the hands of Browne - called the doctor and vowed to expose him and the school for the years of abuse he suffered.
That night Browne fatally shot himself in the head. Soon after that, the school's head of boarding from the time when the bleeding boy reported the abuse also committed suicide.
When the school learned of Browne's extended history of abuse after the suicides, school representatives made promises to take action but in actuality did nothing, the victims say.
"The intentional disregard and deliberate indifference enabled Dr. Browne to rob these children of their souls with impunity, forever altering the course of their lives, violating the very express wishes and legacy of the late Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop when she established her trust for the protection and benefit of all children of Hawaiian ancestry," the men say in their lawsuit.
They say the ultimate goal of their lawsuit is to compel the trustees, administrators and faculty of Kamehameha Schools to make permanent and lasting changes so that what happened to the plaintiffs will never happen again to another child at Kamehameha Schools.
"The claims we are hearing about today are the same that were made in the lawsuit that was originally filed in 2014," Kevin Cockett, communications vice president for Kamehameha Schools, said in a statement.
"We continue to be troubled and saddened by this matter. The safety and welfare of our students is Kamehameha's highest priority. We are working to resolve this matter in the best interests of everyone involved," he said.
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