Attorney Gregory Kafoury orchestrated a line of questioning Friday intended to show Mid-Columbia Medical Center’s failure to be forthcoming about sex abuse complaints against an anesthesiologist could have provided him with time to molest an employee.
The Dalles Police Detective Sgt. Dan Nelson was on the stand in a Wasco County courtroom most of Friday morning. He told Kafoury that the July 28, 2011, arrest of Dr. Frederick Field for a 2007 molestation incident might have taken place sooner if he had been fully briefed by administrators about similar reports in 2008 and 2011.
“I think it would have created more of a sense of urgency of resolving it,” Nelson said of the investigation that began in May 2011. A former trauma nurse reported abuse that had taken place during a surgery four years earlier.
She had been reluctant to bring the incident into the public arena but had been talked into doing so by her husband due to emotional problems she was having.
Nelson said it had been difficult to move forward on a “he said, she said” allegation with no supporting evidence or documentation. But knowing that two other women had registered the same type of complaints would have pointed toward a serial abuser and raised the level of alarm.
Kafoury informed jurors that Field molested a co-worker July 24, 2011, just four days before he was taken into custody.
The attorney said an anonymous letter written by the 2007 victim’s husband and slipped under the door of the hospital’s administration office in April 2011 said, “Please, if there is ever such a thing as a hint of this happening to another woman, please believe her.”
Kafoury said even that “chilling” message that ignited the investigation into Field’s behavior hadn’t compelled Duane Francis, chief executive officer, and Diane Storby, vice-president of operations, to provide Nelson with more information.
Robert Keating, attorney for MCMC, gained confirmation from Nelson that Francis and Storby had asked the police department during a May 10, 2011, meeting to investigate the 2007 complaint. He said the administrators had tracked the former patient down through a doctor who had spoken with the husband and then encouraged her to meet with Nelson, which she did six days later.
“So all of the efforts at the hospital to encourage her to come forward were helpful,” said Keating.
Kafoury rebutted Keating’s statement later by saying that the woman testified to having been intimidated from filing a report by Francis and Storby. They reportedly told her that doing so would bring “scandal” down on her employer. He said they had no choice but to become cooperative when it became apparent that the woman was going ahead with the report.
Keating said Francis and Storby had fully complied with the request of authorities that they not tip Field off about the investigation before the woman’s recorded phone call to him had taken place. He said Storby provided police with Field’s schedule and contact information so that he could be called when not at home or work where he would be more guarded in conversation.
“Did the pretext phone call help you?” asked Keating, to which Nelson replied, “It helped me greatly.”
“Then confidentiality helped?” asked Keating.
“Again, it helped me,” answered Nelson.
In September 2012, Field admitted guilt in the call recorded by Oregon State Police Detective Lori Rosebraugh about the 2007 incident. He was sentenced to 23 years in prison for the rape of a co-worker and 11 counts of sexual abuse involving other employees and patients.
Kafoury and McDougal, a Portland law firm that specializes in severe injury cases, is representing seven of the 12 women involved in the criminal case. Willie Gmeinder and Erin Vance, both former MCMC patients who reside in The Dalles, are involved in the first trial that began Oct. 1 and is expected to continue for the next two weeks.
Sharon Hobbs of Mosier is also a plaintiff in the trial and represented by Jan Wyers, an attorney from Hood River.
The women are each seeking $6 million from the hospital for its failure to take action that might have prevented Field from victimizing patients. Francis and Storby are also being sued personally.
Nelson told Kafoury that hospital administrators did not let him know until the day after Field’s arrest that Gmeinder had complained in February 2011 about being forced to put her hand on his genitals while sedated. At that time, Storby told him she would turn notes about that incident over to him in the immediate future.
Nelson said he did not receive the paperwork on Gmeinder’s incident until Nov. 29, 2011, four months after Field’s arrest.
The detective said vague references had been made at the meeting in May 2011 with administrators about inappropriate touching complaints made in the past. Francis and Storby told Nelson these accusations had been investigated and were determined to have been unfounded.
“Prior to Field’s arrest did anyone in the hospital give you useful information on Gmeinder?” asked Kafoury.
“No, sir,” replied Nelson.
Keating said neither Francis nor Storby had attempted to hide information from police and gained Nelson’s agreement that they had provided everything that he asked for to build the criminal case.
“And you still believe she (Storby) was being truthful when she spoke (about 2008 case)?” asked the attorney.
“Yes,” replied Nelson.
Keating said after the patient from 2008 failed to return phone calls and letters, and Gmeinder recanted her accusations as hallucinations in 2011, there had not been much to report.
He said administrators had waited until after Field’s arrest to provide additional information so they would not end up somehow tipping him off about the investigation.
In October, Detective Sean Lundry, who was working the case with Nelson, was visited by the patient from 2008 and he called Storby. She questioned the validity of the woman’s accusations, in part, because it would not have been so shocking for her to get Gmeinder’s report if she had known about a previous incident.
Storby later said she had been unable to locate the box containing that woman’s report because she could not remember the woman’s or the date of the incident. She said the documentation had eventually been recovered from a storage area in the basement that she never visited.
Her former assistant, Lois Shetterly, took the stand Friday to say that she had not been asked by Storby to assist in the search for the 2008 paperwork until fall 2011.
Kafoury pointed out that, even when the documentation was found, it was not taken directly to the detectives.
“Did there come a time when you concluded the hospital had not been straight with you?” asked Kafoury, to which Nelson replied. “Yes.”
He said that doubts about whether the hospital was providing him with all of the pertinent information arose after he learned about details of past complaints from media reports.
Keating is joined in defending the hospital by attorneys Andrew Efaw of Colorado and Peter Eidenberg of Portland.
Kafoury is joined in court by his partner Mark McDougal and son Jason Kafoury.