R. Trent Shores, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation who serves as the U.S. Attorney for Northern Oklahoma, is the co-chair of a new task force that will look into abuse of children at the Indian Health Service. He is seen at a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing in Washington, D.C., on October 25, 2017. Photo: SCIA

'Institutional and systemic breakdown' at Indian Health Service under scrutiny

By Acee Agoyo

Tribal leaders are welcoming an investigation into the "institutional and systemic breakdown" within the Indian Health Service, one that allowed a pediatrician to abuse young patients on two reservations for years without being held accountable.

The Presidential Task Force on Protecting Native American Children in the Indian Health Service System is being co-chaired by R. Trent Shores, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation who is the only Native American serving as a U.S. Attorney in the Trump administration. It will attempt to determine how the IHS failed to keep young citizens of the Blackfeet Nation and the Oglala Sioux Tribe safe from Stanley Patrick Weber, described by federal prosecutors as a "pedophile" who feels no remorse for the hurt he caused.

“Trent Shores, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma, has a history of working to protect Indian children in Oklahoma and I have confidence in his ability to make safety recommendations as part of this new designated task force,” Chief Bill John Baker of the Cherokee Nation said in an endorsement of the new initiative.

“It is heartbreaking and unconscionable that an IHS pediatrician was allowed to prey upon Indian children," added Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby. "We commend and support the administration and the Department of Justice for initiating this important review of IHS practices so that all proper measures are taken to ensure the protection and safety of all children.”

Indianz.Com on YouTube: Indian Health Service at United South and Eastern Tribes Impact Week

The announcement of the task force comes six months after a federal jury found Weber, who is non-Indian, guilty of attempted aggravated sexual abuse of a child, abusive sexual contact of a minor and aggravated sexual abuse of a child. The crimes occurred at an IHS facility in Montana, where boys from the Blackfeet Nation were victimized between 1992 and 1995.

"This conduct is unacceptable and will not be tolerated at IHS," Deputy Director Chris Buchanan, who is a citizen of the Seminole Nation, told leaders of the United South and Eastern Tribes as they met earlier this month in Washington, D.C.

Weber apparently does not feel the same way about his conduct. After being sentenced to 18 years in prison, he took his case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

His opening brief due at the end of April and the government's response due a month later, according to the schedule.

While that appeal is underway, government prosecutors are moving forward with the second case, this one accusing Weber of abusing boys at an IHS facility on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The incidents there took place between 1998 and 2011, according to the superseding indictment, after he had been reassigned from the hospital in neighboring Montana.

The trial is scheduled to start September 6 in federal court in Rapid City, according to the order from the chief judge.

A 'pedophile': Stanley Patrick Weber, a former Indian Health Service pediatrician, has been convicted of abusing Indian children on the Blackfeet Nation in Montana and is facing a trial for abusing children on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo: U.S. Attorney's Office

Weber has been the subject of numerous reports in Native Sun News Today, dating back to March 2017, when the charges in South Dakota were first announced. But the IHS didn't publicly discuss the case until a Dear Tribal Leader letter was sent out on October 26, 2018.

The case has since drawn wider attention after being featured in the mainstream media. Last month, The Wall Street Journal and FRONTLINE PBS debuted Predator on the Reservation, a documentary that explored how Weber was able to stay employed at the IHS despite long-standing questions about his dealings with young male patients.

“This conduct is utterly unacceptable and it will not be tolerated at IHS,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who oversees the IHS, told the National Congress of American Indians following the release of the documentary last month.

At NCAI's winter session in D.C. on February 13, Azar said the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services has opened an investigation into the case. Separately, the IHS is developing policies and plans to address incidents of abuse and suspicions of abuse, Buchanan said at USET's meeting on March 6.

According to the White House, the new task force will not interfere with the criminal proceedings or the internal reviews at HHS and IHS.

“We have the opportunity to do good work for a righteous cause," U.S. Attorney Trent Shores said on Wednesday. "Protecting Native American children who enter the Indian Health Service system is a common sense mission. It’s also one which this task force will approach with a great sense of purpose and urgency."

The task force has seven members, with Shores and Joseph Grogan, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, serving as co-chairs. The other five members are:

• Bo Leach, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Office of Justice Services

• Stephanie Knapp, MSW, LCSW, Child/Adolescent Forensic Interviewer, Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Office for Victims Assistance, Child Victim Services Unit

• Shannon Bears Cozzoni, Tribal Liaison and Assistant United States Attorney, United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Oklahoma

• Caitlin A. Hall, MD, FAAP, Clinical Director/Pediatrician, Dzilth-na-o-dith-hle Health Center, Indian Health Service

• Farnoosh Faezi-Marian, Program Examiner, Office of Management and Budget

Of the seven members, none presently work in the Great Plains or Rocky Mountain regions, where the abuse incidents at the IHS occurred. The agency's sole representative is Caitlin A. Hall, who works at the Dzilth-Na-O-Dith-Hle Health Center, a facility on the New Mexico portion of the Navajo Nation.

Besides Shores, two task force members are based in Oklahoma. One is Bo Leach, a citizen of Choctaw Nation who works for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Oklahoma City, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Shannon Bears Cozzoni works with Shores as a tribal liaison and assistant federal prosecutor. She formerly served as a prosecutor for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

Shores, who also chairs the Native American Issues Subcommittee at the Department of Justice, has experience in dealing with child abuse in Indian Country. In an appearance before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in October 2017, he described how one young victim adopted the mannerisms of a horse because of the trauma she endured in her own home.

"After months of intense work with our prosecution team and counselors, that same little girl —a nd two of her friends who had also been raped by her father — bravely testified in front of a jury and in front of her father," Shores told the committee. "He was found guilty and is now spending life in a federal penitentiary."

"Members of the committee, there are many more cases like these — domestic violence, sexual assaults, child abuse — that require resources to be successfully investigated and prosecuted, and to help give a voice to victims," he added.

The White House did not say exactly how long the task force would perform its work but one critic of the IHS welcomed the development. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-South Dakota) praised the Trump administration for "recognizing the need to correct the horrors that happened at Pine Ridge and elsewhere due to systemic failures" at the agency.

"I look forward to continuing to work with the administration on this and other ways to improve the IHS," said Rounds, who has repeatedly introduced legislation to address "poor leadership and mismanagement" at the agency. Tribes in the Great Plains, a region that is home to some of the worst-performing facilities in the system, have supported his efforts.

'Stanley Weber is a pedophile'
From the sentencing memorandum in Stanley Patrick Weber's case in Montana:
Stanley Weber is a pedophile. For over two decades, he used his position as a pediatrician with the Indian Health Service to gain access to vulnerable prepubescent males, and subsequently committed terrible acts of sexual abuse upon his victims under the guise of providing them with “medical treatment.” While living and working on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Weber lured young juvenile males to his home by providing them with alcohol, pizza, soda, ice cream, video games, money, clothing, and overnight trips both on and off the reservation. Once isolated with these children, Weber seized his opportunity to act upon his deviant sexual desires by engaging in forced or coerced sexual activity with them. Weber leveraged his position within IHS and the communities where he worked and lived to gain the trust of many of his coworkers and supervisors, allowing him to survive multiple allegations and investigations into his suspicious behavior.

Although the crimes at issue in this case occurred more than 20 years ago, Weber has never had to face the consequences of his actions. In fact, when questions were raised about his behavior, he simply moved to a new community where he continued his pattern of criminality. Meanwhile, his victims grew up, saddled with confusion, shame, and fear that they could not reveal what happened to them as children, lest they face further embarrassment and ridicule from members of their community. The impact of Weber’s crimes ultimately manifested in his victims in the form of legal problems, drug and alcohol abuse, the inability to maintain stead

Even after his conviction, Weber continues to be unapologetic for his actions and shows no remorse for his victims or the harm he inflicted upon them. In fact, it is doubtful that he views his actions as criminal at all. His decades of predatory sexual abuse of children are among the most heinous and serious crimes cognizable by federal criminal law. At nearly 70 years of age, and with no sign of remorse, there is no reason to believe that Weber either recognizes the severity of his crimes or any realistic hope that he can ever be rehabilitated. Accordingly, justice demands that Weber face a severe sentence despite the age of his misconduct in this case.

'Predator on the Reservation'

FRONTLINE PBS: Predator on the Reservation

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