Virginia AG not within its jurisdiction in children’s hospital sexual misconduct investigation
Earlier this year, the office of Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares ceded jurisdiction in a long-running investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct and other abuse at a hospital that serves vulnerable children.
This ruling leaves all other charging decisions to a local prosecutor with a small staff. Miyares’ office offered a procedural explanation for the change, but the decision surprised some legal observers, given that the attorney general showed up last year with a tough-on-crime message and sought to expand the role of his office in the criminal prosecution.
“My concern is that when things got tough they didn’t want to continue,” said Kevin Biniazan, an attorney representing about 50 ex-patients who are plaintiffs in lawsuits against Cumberland Hospital for Children and Youth, related legal persons. and the facility’s former longtime medical director, Dr. Daniel Davidow.
The facility, located in a rural setting in New Kent County, about half an hour east of the state capital, treats children and young adults with complex medical needs, including Chronic diseasesbrain damage and neurobehavioral disorders.
The lawsuits say the hospital operated without proper authorization and was “lacking basic sanitation or humanity”, allegations the facility denies. And more than three dozen female plaintiffs allege that Davidow, who has not been charged with any crime, sexually assaulted them during physical exams. In court documents and through a lawyer, Davidow strongly denies the allegations.
The lawsuits and other concerns from patients’ parents about the hospital, which were highlighted by persistent reporting by Richmond television station WTVR, have raised alarm bells at the highest levels of state government on at least two governorships. Virginia State Police began investigating hospital staff in October 2017 and that work is ongoing, spokeswoman Corinne Geller said. The full scope and objectives of the investigation have not been made public.
Led by former attorney general, Democrat Mark Herring, the office prosecuted two hospital staff members.
One, a 72-year-old psychotherapist, was accused of sexually abusing a patient and died by suicide the same day he was due to appear in court for a plea hearing. The other, a behavioral technician, was sentenced in December to a year in prison after pleading without contest an allegation that she intentionally burned a disabled child with boiling water.
Biniazan said that during the investigation he was in contact with different state police officials and attorneys in AG’s office. After Miyares was sworn in on January 15, Biniazan was informed that a new deputy attorney general was taking over the case. But then his company got a call in the spring saying the AG office was handing it over, he said.
A spokeswoman for Miyares said the attorney general’s office initially became involved because the former New Kent County Commonwealth attorney had a personal dispute. T. Scott Renick, who took office in January 2020, has no such conflict, so jurisdiction was “rightfully returned,” spokeswoman Victoria LaCivita said.
Renick, who has a deputy and an assistant district attorney, said in an interview that he did not ask for the jurisdiction to be returned to him.
“The attorney general’s office was just not proceeding at the time,” he said, referring questions about why to Miyares’ office.
Steven Benjamin, a prominent Richmond criminal defense attorney who serves as a special adviser to the Virginia Senate Courts of Justice Committee, said LaCivita’s explanation was not “persuasive.”
“The absence of conflict two years into his tenure does not explain a withdrawal he did not request,” wrote Benjamin, who reviewed investigation reports and court documents as requested. from the AP, in an email.
Miyares, a former Virginia Beach state prosecutor and legislator, beat Herring in November after a campaign in which he criticized the two-term holder for what he called a “criminal mindset of first, victim last”. During this year’s legislative session, his office pushed unsuccessfully for legislation that would have expanded the currently limited set of crimes that the attorney general can prosecute absent special authorization, specifically seeking the ability to dealing with child sexual abuse. He recently said he would try again in the next legislative session.
His office chose to withhold documents related to the Cumberland decision that the AP was requesting under Virginia’s Open Archives Act.
Cumberland Hospital is a subsidiary of Pennsylvania-based, publicly traded Universal Health Services Inc., which operates behavioral health and other health care facilities across the country and has also been designated as a defendant in the lawsuit of Biniazan’s clients.
Joseph Farchione, an attorney representing the hospital in the civil case, said no charges have been brought against the hospital and to his knowledge the hospital is not the subject of any criminal investigation. . Farchione also noted that Davidow was an independent contractor.
“Cumberland Hospital employees are committed to the founding vision of providing high quality, integrated care for children and adolescents,” he wrote in an email.
In response to reports about the hospital and the investigation, spokespersons for GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin and former Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam raised concerns. And the clinical director of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services personally filed a complaint with the state agency that licenses medical professionals in 2020 after she said various law enforcement agencies, health and social services met to discuss the abuse allegations made against Davidow. Dr. Alexis Aplasca’s complaint related not only to allegations, but also to his concerns arising from a review of patient records that Davidow, a currently active licensed physician, treated children and adolescents with multiple medications. antipsychotics without adequate supervision by a psychiatrist.
In three lawsuits filed by Biniazan, 39 former patients allege that Davidow sexually assaulted them during exams. Many women, who are suing using pseudonyms, say Davidow claimed he had to check their femoral pulse, then put his hand under their clothes and intentionally touch their vaginas, sometimes penetrating them with his fingers. Most of the alleged abuse took place during examinations performed by Davidow shortly after the patients were admitted to the hospital, according to the lawsuits.
Several male complainants allege that other hospital staff physically beat and abused them, including a patient who said staff members repeatedly lifted him from his wheelchair and threw him in the shower, knowing that he was unable to physically prepare himself to avoid injury.
The lawsuits are being consolidated so that the allegations can be heard in one trial.
Davidow’s lawyers declined to answer questions from the access point but said in a statement that Davidow “strongly denies” the plaintiffs’ allegations.
“He cares deeply for the well-being of the patients he cares for, has cooperated fully and openly with authorities when complaints have been investigated, and remains committed to seeing him found guilty in court. court,” the statement said.
As for the criminal investigation, Renick, the New Kent district attorney, said his office met a state police investigator and was awaiting a final report.
“I think what’s in the best interest of my clients and in the best interest of the public,” Biniazan said, “is that whoever is going to conduct a criminal investigation, in light of the allegations that we’re talking about, they have to be fully engaged in the performance of this function.”