Reginald Archibald, a former doctor and scientist at Rockefeller University Hospital, sexually abused many of his child patients for decades, and his employer had multiple “warning signs” about his behavior, according to a report released Thursday by Rockefeller.
The report is the result of an investigation into Archibald’s alleged misconduct that started in the fall of 2018, after a former patient lodged a complaint with the hospital. The investigation, conducted by a law firm hired by Rockefeller, reveals that the university also received many other complaints as far back as the early 1960s against Archibald, who worked at the hospital from the 1940s to the 1980s and died in 2007.
“What’s most outrageous is they knew going back for decades about this man, and what they did is typical of large institutions: They protected the institution over the safety and welfare of the children,” Paul Mones, an attorney representing 200 of Archibald’s former patients, told BuzzFeed News.
Archibald, a pediatric endocrinologist who studied and treated issues related to childhood growth and maturation, fondled young patients, had them masturbate, masturbated them until they ejaculated, pulled their erect penises, brushed his face against their genitals, touched them while having them sit naked in his lap, and took semen samples from them without any professional justification, according to the report. Archibald also published research that included photographs he’d taken of nude patients, ostensibly to document their growth and sexual maturation.
Several former patients told BuzzFeed News earlier this year that these doctor visits, which they stayed silent about for years, were traumatizing, humiliating, and life-altering. Two journals are now planning to acknowledge the patients’ allegations in the scientific record.
Archibald’s misconduct was apparently not confined to the doctor’s office. He also invited patients to his summer cabin in Canada, and a few of them told investigators that sexual abuse took place there, according to the report.
For its investigation, the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton interviewed more than 1,000 witnesses and reviewed Archibald’s records, patient records, and other Rockefeller documents. Its report acknowledges that, at this point, many witnesses have died or do not remember what happened.
“With the benefit of hindsight, however,” it concludes, “and viewed in light of today’s greater knowledge of sexual abuse and current standards of appropriate practices and procedures for studies and treatment of children, there were warning signs that could have been seen, appreciated or further pursued earlier.”
Mones said the report’s findings verify his clients’ experiences with Archibald. But he criticized the report for at times attempting to rationalize the doctor’s misconduct. Also, he said, it downplayed the university’s failure to act on concerns about him.
For example, in 1960, the New York County district attorney’s office issued a grand jury subpoena for medical records for two patients. The grand jury did not charge Archibald, and the matter was dismissed for reasons unknown because the proceeding was private, according to the report. The then-president of Rockefeller was aware of the investigation, but has since died.
In 1996, a former patient sent a letter to the hospital complaining about inappropriate sexual conduct during exams in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Archibald denied the accusations, and the physician-in-chief told the New York State Office of Professional Medical Conduct that the allegation was baseless.
In 1998, a former patient called to say that Archibald had acted sexually inappropriate toward him, according to the report. After he made his complaint, “nothing more happened at that time.”
Yet another complainant who came forward in 2004 was found to have credible allegations, but “stopped communicating.” That year, the doctor who held the position of physician-in-chief from 1960 to 1974 told investigators that he had received complaints about Archibald. But, the report said, “his memory was vague” and “there is no evidence that Dr. Archibald acknowledged any inappropriate conduct.”
“They made people unnecessarily suffer for decades.”
Then in 2018, the law firm interviewed four more people and found them to be credible. In October, “consistent with today’s emerging view of best practices,” the hospital sent outreach letters to former patients.
In Mones’ view, this effort was far too late. “They made people unnecessarily suffer for decades,” he said.
Soon, Archibald’s patients may take Rockefeller to court. Starting in August, a newly passed New York state law will allow child sex abuse survivors to pursue prosecution against their abusers and their abusers’ institutions.
Among those planning to sue are John Wagner and three of his siblings, who claim in court filings that they were abused by Archibald in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Wagner, now 61, was 12 when he visited the doctor, whom Wagner claims fondled and photographed him in the nude.
Wagner told BuzzFeed News that he received a questionnaire from Rockefeller’s law firm as part of its investigation. It asked about his mental health and asked for his mental health records, which he found irrelevant and disingenuous, so he did not fill it out.
In a statement posted with the report Thursday, Rockefeller said, “We profoundly apologize to those patients who experienced pain and suffering as a result of Dr. Archibald’s reprehensible conduct.”
In 1996, 2004, and 2018, the report says, Rockefeller reported allegations to various federal, state, and local authorities. In some cases, the agencies do not appear to have followed up. In other cases, the investigations are pending.
Rockefeller says it has taken steps to better protect patients and research subjects. By 2004, it established a research ethics committee, created more comprehensive informed consent procedures, and strengthened procedures for investigating patient complaints, among other efforts. It now routinely offers a chaperone to be present at the exams of young patients.
The report also notes that Archibald’s misconduct was not universal. He “saw a large number of patients with very few complaints,” and some of them did, and still do, regard him “quite positively.”
In the course of these visits, Archibald measured patients’ height, weight, and genitals, photographed them unclothed, and took X-rays of their bones. These procedures should not be considered part of his sexual abuse, the report says, because they “appear to have been within the range of reasonably accepted practices for the time, given the nature of his practice and the research he was conducting.”
But Wagner says that Rockefeller’s attempt to distinguish the two is an attempt to deflect blame and defend itself.
“To think a doctor would put a child in that kind of emotional position and then abuse them and photograph them and try and stimulate them,” he said. “This was such fucking abuse. This guy was such an abuser. Any characterization of him with any of these patients as ‘it was normal, something done at the time, something that other doctors did’ is just utter bullshit.”