The Wall Street Journal reports the appalling story of Dr. Pat Weber, a pediatrician who apparently preyed on young Indian boys for decades without being held accountable. The story caught my attention because it featured, in a positive role, one of my closest boyhood friends:
At first, officials at the U.S. Indian Health Service overlooked the peculiarities of their unmarried new doctor, including the children’s toys he hoarded in his basement on the reservation. They desperately needed a pediatrician at their hospital in Browning, Mont.
By 1995, after three years, they became convinced Stanley Patrick Weber was a pedophile and pushed for his removal from the government-run hospital.
“You’re going to have to leave,” Randy Rottenbiller, its clinical director at the time, recalled telling the doctor after learning a child patient had stayed the night in his house.
But the Indian Health Service didn’t fire Mr. Weber. Instead, it transferred him to another hospital in Pine Ridge, S.D. He continued treating Native American children there for another 21 years, leaving behind a trail of sexual-assault allegations.
The villains of the story are Dr. Weber, of course, and the Indian Health Service. My old friend, Dr. Mark Butterbrodt, was a fellow pediatrician on the Pine Ridge reservation and tried repeatedly to turn Weber in:
On Dec. 2, 2008, Mark Butterbrodt, another pediatrician at Pine Ridge, contacted the South Dakota medical board alleging that Mr. Weber “selectively cherry-picks young teenage boys in clinic,” according to a copy of the complaint described to the Journal and Frontline. The board investigated. It declined to comment on its findings.
The following year, Dr. Butterbrodt documented the allegations in a letter to his IHS bosses, including Jan Colton, then the hospital’s clinical director. She appointed a panel to investigate. “There were suspicions, but they could find no hard evidence,” said Dr. Colton, a dentist who is now retired.
Mark Butterbrodt and I were classmates from the second grade through high school, and sometime-partners on our state championship-winning debate team. Mark was an English major at Harvard when, relatively late, he decided to become a doctor. He stayed in Cambridge after graduating to take pre-med classes; that was my first year of law school. So we saw each other often then, and also when he practiced medicine in the Twin Cities for a few years immediately after graduating from medical school. He then moved to western South Dakota, where he devoted the rest of his career to treating Indian children on reservations.
The long Journal story, which is well worth reading in its entirety, includes a facsimile of a hand-written letter that Mark wrote about Dr. Weber, blowing the whistle on him as a predator. Across all the years, I immediately recognized the handwriting. The letter included this observation about Weber’s propensity to select boys and young men as reservation clinic patients:
[T]he probability of Dr. Weber seeing so few females–based on random chance–is two out of a trillion.
I have first-hand knowledge, based on my years of association with this individual, that he preferentially chooses skinny and normal weight teenage boys and young men in his practice and I observed him on many occasions picking the charts of these patients out of my own box.
You would think this sort of revelation from a colleague would be the end of Dr. Weber’s association with the Indian Health Service. But no:
After a clash with Mr. Weber, Dr. Butterbrodt was pulled into a supervisor’s office and, within weeks, transferred to a remote facility in North Dakota and stripped of bonus pay, which amounted to around one-third of his annual salary, according to personnel records and Dr. Butterbrodt.
“I was chased off by a pedophile and the people who chose him over me,” said Dr. Butterbrodt, who retired soon after.
I heard several years ago that Mark had left the IHS after some kind of controversy. I knew nothing of the facts but never doubted that, whatever happened, he had been in the right.
After many years, Dr. Weber finally faced criminal prosecution and was convicted on two charges in Montana in September. He faces further prosecution in South Dakota and will be locked up for a long time.
The Journal interviewed Indian Health Service officials as part of its investigation. The IHS explained that it is hard to find doctors willing to work on Indian reservations like Pine Ridge, and therefore they need to hire and retain the people they can get. I don’t find that surprising: the reservations are remote places, depressing in many ways to most people. It is probably impossible to staff an entire organization with dedicated–heroic, really–professionals like Dr. Mark Butterbrodt. But still, some immutable law of bureaucracy seems to dictate that organizations generally protect the corrupt and punish those who try to expose, and deal with, the corruption.
Frontline will air a documentary on this investigation on PBS on Tuesday. This is a trailer for the documentary, in which Mark appears briefly: