Former U.S. Indian Health Service Doctor Is Found Guilty of Abusing Boys

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September 27, 2019
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by Christopher Weaver The Wall Street Journal

Stanley Patrick Weber arriving at federal court in Rapid City, South Dakota on Nov. 1, 2017, for a hearing after he was indicted on sexual assault charges. (Kristina Barker for The Wall Street Journal)

RAPID CITY, S.D.—A jury convicted a former U.S. government pediatrician of sexually abusing young Native American boys under his care at a federal hospital on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Stanley Patrick Weber was found guilty Friday on all eight counts in the case, which involved four boys between about 1995 and 2011. He faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Mr. Weber, 70 years old, was an employee of the Indian Health Service from 1986 until he resigned amid an investigation of sex-abuse allegations in 2016.

The verdict, in federal court in Rapid City, S.D., came after testimony from victims, including one 36-year-old man who described how the former doctor sexually assaulted him in a hospital exam room as an 8- or 9-year-old.

The verdict was the second sex-crimes conviction for Mr. Weber. He was convicted last year of abusing two boys at another government hospital in Montana before his 1995 arrival at Pine Ridge. He was sentenced in January to 18 years and four months in prison. He has appealed the Montana verdict.

His case has shaken the U.S. agency that provides medical care to 2.6 million Native Americans after an investigation by The Wall Street Journal and FRONTLINE in February showed officials up and down the agency’s chain of command ignored warning signs about Mr. Weber, tried to silence whistleblowers and moved the physician from one reservation to another amid suspicions he had abused boys.

That report triggered a reappraisal of the agency’s policies for handling sex-abuse, Senate hearings and at least four additional federal investigations. A White House task force convened to examine the case and come up with a plan to address the agency’s systemic failures.

The agency has said it wouldn’t tolerate abuse and has made changes to prevent such an episode from repeating.

“Stanley Patrick Weber was a walking and talking nightmare for the Pine Ridge reservation and the people who live there,” said U.S. Attorney Ron Parsons in an interview after the verdict. He said the episode underscored “an obligation that is shared by us all to do what we can to ensure nothing like this ever happens again in any of our communities.”

Mr. Weber’s conduct wasn’t a secret at the Pine Ridge hospital. “Dr. Weber, he liked, I guess, the boys,” said Evelyn Weston, a nurse and former outpatient supervisor there, who testified at the trial.

She described them coming to see him at the hospital without an appointment and said Mr. Weber handed out money to his young male patients in plain view “on a daily basis,” she said.

Another current IHS nurse testified that she observed people coming and going from his house late at night, and how, “by the stature and shadows I would see it looked like boys.”

Mr. Weber remained in his position of power at the facility, serving at times as its top medical official, agency employees said in court. 

“We know that it will not completely heal the wounds inflicted on Dr. Weber’s victims,” said Rear Adm. Michael Weahkee, the agency’s current leader, in a statement on the verdict. He said the agency would pay for counseling of Mr. Weber’s victims, including at private facilities outside the IHS system. 

In his opening statement, federal prosecutor Eric Kelderman, said “you are going to hear, or maybe think, the system failed these boys.” But he urged jurors to set aside that question for another day and focus on Mr. Weber’s crimes.

The defense team, led by Denver attorney Harvey Steinberg, known for his representation of NFL stars, argued that the accusers had targeted Mr. Weber because he is an “odd duck,” who stood out on the insular Pine Ridge reservation, one of the poorest communities in the U.S.

“He was in an environment where he stood out,” he told the jury.

Mr. Steinberg didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Steinberg called no witnesses.

Read The Wall Street Journal and FRONTLINE’s investigation.

The prosecution brought six men before the jury who described in often graphic detail how Mr. Weber had sexually assaulted them at the government hospital or his home on its campus, as well as at an IHS outpost in Browning, Mont.

In June 1995, Mr. Weber moved from Browning to Pine Ridge under pressure from IHS officials in Montana who had begun to suspect he was engaged in misconduct with youths, the Journal reported earlier this year.

One witness, a now 40-year-old man, told the jury of an assault by Mr. Weber just weeks after that move, in August 1995. During a sports physical at age 16, he said, Mr. Weber had snapped a blue glove onto his hand and inserted a finger into the boy’s anus for no medical reason.

The men described how Mr. Weber stroked their private parts and violated them under the guise of medical treatment, and lured them to his home with Budweiser, Bacardi Raspberry, Oxycontin and cash.

Many of the youths described difficult childhoods that led them to be susceptible to such approaches.

One, a 32-year-old from Pine Ridge who is now incarcerated, said he became homeless at about age 11. He would sometimes stay with an aunt, but she demanded money or drugs in exchange for shelter. He said he sought cash from Weber to meet that need.

The Journal doesn’t disclose the names of sexual-assault victims without their permission.

Mr. Weber, who has been incarcerated since the Montana trial a year ago, watched the young men describe his crimes with little display of emotion, dressed in a black jacket and white shirt. Some of the victims—three of whom are also incarcerated—appeared in striped prison jump suits and shackles.

One surprise in the trial came when defense lawyers pressed the 32-year-old and another victim, now 28, about a 2006 incident in which they and a third man assaulted Mr. Weber at his home.

The 28-year-old said he was motivated to assault Mr. Weber by sexual abuse he had suffered previously. “He opened the door and we gave him what he deserved,” the man testified.

The 32-year-old described a conflicted relationship with Mr. Weber.

“The love you feel for your dad is how I felt about Dr. Weber,” said the man, who had saved letters Mr. Weber had sent him in prison as recently as 2014. Around that time, he told jurors, watching the television show “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” prompted him to reappraise the sexual relationship he had begun at about age 13 with the former doctor.

“When I realized what was happening was wrong,” he said, “it broke my heart.”

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