Sports|Officials Ignored ‘Clear Evidence’ of Abuse by Ohio State Doctor
Medical regulators found evidence that an Ohio State University doctor had sexually abused students but inexplicably failed to punish him, a review panel said Friday.
A working group, largely made up of state and local law enforcement officials, said that “for reasons that simply cannot be determined,” the State Medical Board of Ohio’s inquiry into Dr. Richard H. Strauss’s conduct essentially went dormant, even though it had, in 1996, yielded evidence of wrongdoing. It was ultimately closed years later without any penalties.
The conclusion came in a report that said “systemic failures” at Ohio State and the medical board had for years “prevented any tangible administrative or criminal consequences” against Strauss. It prompted Gov. Mike DeWine to urge regulators to review a quarter-century’s worth of sexual abuse allegations against health care providers that had ended “without action.”
“I have deep concerns that there could be other cases similar to this one — cases where there was clear evidence of criminal misconduct, but that evidence was ignored,” DeWine said.
A spokeswoman for the medical board, Tessie Pollock, said Friday that officials had already begun records searches and that the board intended to scrutinize the old cases, of which there could be more than 1,500.
Strauss, who worked as a team doctor at Ohio State, killed himself in 2005, more than 25 years after university employees first learned of suspicions and concerns about his behavior. In May, Ohio State said its own inquiry had found that Strauss had abused at least 177 men across the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s and that dozens of university employees had failed to heed signs of trouble or do anything to prevent more attacks.
Critics of Ohio State, including some involved in litigation against the school, assert Strauss abused scores more people. Lawyers representing a group of men suing Ohio State said the number of accusers topped 300.
The report released Friday found that the passive response to the allegations against Strauss spread beyond the university’s campus in Columbus and into the offices of the board charged with disciplining doctors.
A medical board investigator “recognized the potential severity and reach of Strauss’ improper conduct” during a different investigation in July 1996, and by December of that year, a report said that evidence showed “that Dr. Strauss has been performing inappropriate genital exams on male students for years.”
The matter was referred for possible disciplinary action and within months, a lawyer had drawn up a plan to move toward that.
Then nothing happened.
The case fell into a “black hole,” as one of the board’s former employees told investigators, Strauss’s medical license lapsed in 1998, and the board closed its inquiry in 2002. The panel said there was no documented explanation for the shutdown of the inquiry, and it said it had no evidence that anyone associated with the medical board had contacted law enforcement about Strauss.
“Going forward, the Medical Board should actively demonstrate that its advances since 1996 ensure that it will never again allow an investigation like Strauss’ to sit inactive, without enforcement,” the working group wrote in a 268-page report, including appendices.
The group recommended that the medical board examine whether any current licensees should have reported Strauss to the authorities.
Pollock said the board’s approach to complaints of sexual wrongdoing had “substantially advanced since the tragic misconduct of Richard Strauss.”
“We have streamlined the complaint intake process and now triage alleged sexual boundary violations with the highest priority,” she said. “Investigations are more survivor-focused, more psychologically minded, and take advantage of the research that has been done in this area.”
An Ohio State spokesman, Benjamin Johnson, said Friday that the university would “thoroughly review” the task force’s report and said it had “implemented multiple additional safeguards in the 20 years since Strauss left the university.”
“Once again,” Johnson said, “we express compassion and concern with the survivors of Richard Strauss’ abuse.”
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Alan Blinder travels the country covering college sports and is based in Atlanta. In his previous role as a national correspondent, he reported from more than two dozen states. He joined The Times in 2013. @alanblinder