A pediatrician that worked at Indian Health Service facilities was convicted last year for sexually abusing Native children over the past two decades. In his time with the IHS, United States government officials did nothing to stop the abuse, save for transfer him from a Montana tribal hospital to one in Pine Ridge, S.D.
The horrendous nature of Stanley Weber’s abuse was detailed in a collaborative investigative project helmed by the Wall Street Journal and PBS Frontline. The Journal published a written report on Friday; a documentary produced by PBS will air next Tuesday. Weber was indicted in 2017 and 2018 for the sexual assault of six patients stemming from his time at the two hospitals.
In 1995, the clinical director of a Browning, MT hospital, located in Blackfeet Nation, dismissed Weber after discovering he took a child patient home with him overnight. But Weber was not fired or barred from employment in the IHS; instead, he made his way to the hospital system in Pine Ridge, home of the Oglala Sioux tribe. There, as he did in Montana, Weber preyed on Native children as IHS officials facing a doctor shortage turned a blind eye.
According to interviews with Weber’s victims and court documents reviewed by the Journal, Weber used money, alcohol, and opioids to coerce his child victims. One of the victims detailed the abuse he faced from Weber when he went in for scheduled appointments to the paper:
Another former patient testified that the doctor had inserted a finger into his anus in an IHS exam room when he was about 8 years old. The doctor used two fingers on his next visit, and later, his penis.
Despite numerous red flags being raised by tribal members and hospital employees, Weber’s behavior wasn’t stopped until a tribal prosecutor, Elaine Yellow Horse, started pursuing the allegations in 2015. For his Montana crimes, which focused on the abuse of two young boys, Weber was found guilty in 2018 of attempted aggravated sexual abuse of a child, attempted sexual abuse of a minor, abusive sexual contact of a minor, and two counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child for engaging in sexual acts, per the Great Falls Tribune. He still is yet to face trial for his South Dakota crimes.
To understand how this happened for as long as it did requires an understanding of the budget and hiring issues that plague the IHS and specifically the Pine Ridge hospital.
As was reported by the Argus Leader back in the fall, the Pine Ridge reservation’s IHS facility has routinely ranked among the worst in Indian Country due to the fact that Congress refuses to properly fund the IHS. As shown by the Journal’s reporting, this led to IHS administrators overlooking serious concerns repeatedly raised by community and tribal members.
“It’s fair to say that because of the absolute need to fill positions, we don’t really get the best of the best,” Bob McSwain, a former director of the IHS, told the Journal. “There’s a strange tolerance level that, ‘Oh, OK, the guy’s a womanizer, the guy’s this, the guy’s that, but he comes in to see patients.’”
The IHS is operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is housed in the Department of the Interior. While many tribes have since taken control of their IHS facilities and have their tribal governments operate the hospitals, those with limited funds are forced to depend on an apathetic United States government. All this is exacerbated by the fact that the IHS is currently facing a leadership vacuum that’s gone unaddressed by federal government officials for years.
It’s almost the weekend, and you should go into it on a happier note than this, but before you do, please go read the Journal’s full report.