A Rockefeller University Hospital doctor used his position “as a trusted and respected physician” to sexually exploit and abuse possibly hundreds of young boys under his care, according to recent report by the law firm representing the hospital.
Dr. Reginald Archibald, who began a nearly four-decade long tenure at Rockefeller University and Rockefeller University Hospital in 1940 “engaged in a widespread pattern of misconduct and sexually abused many children at the Hospital over the course of many years when offering patients medical care and treatment,” according to the report by the city-based Debevoise & Plimpton firm, which has long represented the Rockefeller family and its interests. Bottom of Form
‘Dark’ and ‘Evil’
Barbara Hart, the lawyer representing a potential plaintiff, a retired NYPD Sergeant, said the report, released May 23, was nevertheless oblique.
“The report concedes both his reprehensible conduct and the fact that they should have known and were on notice from very early on,” she said in an interview. “While they had to concede both that his conduct was child abuse and that there were early warning signs, I find it offensive that they tried to showcase purported legitimate medical services, which there is no indication that cured anyone, came out with any research that was legitimate, and that the research project itself did anything but give him extreme access to children.”
It is possible that the University was aware of abuse allegations against Dr. Archibald beginning in the 1990s, although the report notes there were questions about his practice more than a decade earlier.
He was an assistant resident physician at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, which later became Rockefeller University, from 1941 through 1946, and as a senior physician and professor from 1948 until 1980. He retained medical staff privileges until 1982. He died in May 2007.
Ms. Hart said that other evidence, such as photos and medical records, tied to Dr. Archibald’s purported research should have generated alarm to his “dark” and “evil” transgressions. “It should have triggered oversight and intervention,” she said.
900 Come Forward
The Debevoise report notes that outreach to the doctor’s former patients resulted in more than 900 people coming forward to give information about their own experiences or those of others.
Although Dr. Archibald conducted what were considered routine examinations for an expert in childhood growth, as he was, nominally at least, the report notes that “he also engaged in behaviors that, we conclude, constituted sexual misconduct,” including by “fondling patients,” “pulling male patients’ genitals when they had erections,” and “brushing up against patients’ genitals with his face.”
He also had patients “masturbate while he was present” or “physically manipulate[ed] them to ejaculation,” the report notes.
The report does suggest that he was asked about some of his practice: “Although he denied it, it is clear that Archibald frequently took semen samples and did so without sufficient medical or research justification.”
‘More To Be Known’
Ms. Hart is seeking the appointment of a special master as well as pre-action discovery to ensure potential victims’ claims are not weakened by the loss, or disappearance, of records such as correspondence, photographs, lab results and the like. A special master could also limit outreach, and potential influence, by defendants’ lawyers, she said.
“There’s clearly much more that’s known...than what was summarily presented in the Debevoise report,” which she called “selective in its presentation.”
The “passage of time,” she said, makes it all the more imperative to have access to information and possible witnesses, including on the medical staff, some of whom would be in their 90s.
“There’s an urgent need” to get witness accounts and depositions from anyone still alive and competent, she said.
The request for the special master follows state legislation signed into law in February that allows victims to pursue legal action that would have otherwise been barred by what is now a 5-year statute of limitations. That portion of the legislation permitting lawsuits for “time-barred” incidents, however, called for a six-month waiting period, meaning lawsuits cannot proceed until August.
Representatives for the relevant parties, including for relatives of Dr. Archibald's, appeared before State Supreme Court Judge Eileen A. Rakower on May 14.
Ms. Hart said that in calls to potential victims of Dr. Archibald's, lawyers for Rockefeller University were not forthright about who they representing and did not explain that a change in the law was likely imminent. One of Ms. Hart’s clients, retired NYPD Sergeant John Corcoran, then “started to discuss the trauma that he experienced in an unfiltered way” with Debevoise lawyers, effectively creating a discovery opportunity, Ms. Hart told Judge Rakower, according a transcript of the May 14 hearing.
Mr. Corcoran, now in his late 70s, was asked to strip naked and then examined by Dr. Archibald before entering a pool at what was then the Madison Square Boys Club on East 29th St. He was seen by Dr. Archibald for a number of years, beginning in his young adolescence, supposedly as part of the doctor’s study.
‘University is Committed’
Ms. Hart said the “probably hundreds” who are not aware of the legislation and could have also been subject to abuse by Dr. Archibald would then be advised of their rights under the law.
“If we are going to effectuate the purpose of this really landmark law, we have to innovate and see whether or not we can make it cause the healing that is in the concept,” she said at the hearing.
A lawyer for Rockefeller University, Mark Cohen, said the university was not trying to “avoid anything,” and in fact was being as straightforward as possible, including by reporting their knowledge of the alleged abuse to law enforcement and other officials. He assured Judge Rakower that relevant documentation is being preserved, precluding the need for a special master or pre-action discovery.
“The University is committed to that,” he said of the preservation of evidence during the court hearing. “I don't want to speak for the other defendants, but I am sure they are too. So this is not a situation where the Court has to be concerned about destruction of records.”
Mr. Cohen also argued that the privacy rights of people not being represented by Ms. Hart and her colleagues supersede their right to their documents before formal legal action is taken.
Judge Rakower has not yet ruled on either application.
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