An indictment accusing a former Indian Health Service doctor in Wagner of sexually abusing Native American patients was unsealed Thursday, just three days after another former IHS doctor received multiple life sentences for sexually abusing underage patients in Pine Ridge.
Pedro Ibarra-Perocier was indicted Feb. 4 on four counts of sexual abuse and four counts of abusive sexual contact against four adults between January 2014 and August 2018, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office in South Dakota.
Ibarra-Perocier, 58, pleaded not guilty Thursday at the federal courthouse in Sioux Falls, the news release says. He was released without bond but had to turn in his passport and can't contact any of the victims, court records show. Ibarra-Perocier faces up to life in prison if convicted.
Ibarra-Perocier was employed as a doctor at the IHS clinic in Wagner on the Yankton Reservation from August 2006 to Oct. 29, 2019, IHS Public Affairs Staff said in an email. Due to privacy rules, the IHS said, it can't say whether he resigned or was fired. This was his first position with the IHS or any other federal agency.
"Patients and employees of the Indian Health Service should never face sexual harassment or abuse" and the agency is committed to "holding accountable anyone who has abused patients or failed to protect them," the IHS said when asked about the indictment.
The indictment doesn't explain where or how Ibarra-Perocier allegedly abused his patients, but it says he engaged in sexual acts and contact with patients by threatening them and making them fearful.
Frontline and the Wall Street Journal are citing sources who say that after a woman complained in late 2018 that Ibarra-Perocier abused her, a worker reported the incident to law enforcement, the IHS launched an internal investigation, and the doctor was placed on administrative leave. But Ibarra-Perocier was allowed to work at the IHS administrative office in Aberdeen in April 2019.
The FBI and Office of Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services (OIG-HHS) — which oversees the IHS — then identified other women who complained about Ibarra-Perocier's behavior in the exam room, the outlets reported.
The IHS didn't confirm or deny this narrative but explained that federal law and agency policy says sexual abuse allegations must be immediately reported to law enforcement and the IHS sometimes conducts its own internal investigations for possible personnel actions.
"Suspicion that an employee committed a crime does not always serve as a basis for placing an employee on" paid leave, the IHS said when asked if it's policy to place those accused of sexual abuse on paid leave.
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IHS works with law enforcement and human resources staff to make a decision on this matter, the IHS said. If the employee is placed on paid leave, federal law says it can only be for a limited period of time because the purpose is to help facilitate an investigation, not punish someone.
"At the conclusion of a period of investigative leave, if warranted, an employee may be assigned to duties that do not involve patient contact while administrative action is taken," the agency wrote in the email.
"There are a number of factors to consider when terminating an employee and each case is different," the IHS said when asked if it's policy to fire workers indicted on sexual assault crimes. Poor performance, illegal activity, abuse of position, misconduct and neglect of duty count as possible reasons to fire someone.
Frontline and the WSJ also say at least two nurses previously accused Ibarra-Perocier of workplace harassment in recent years when he was being supervised by his wife, who left her job in 2007 due to an illness and died in 2018. The article does not say if those accusations were formally reported to and investigated by the the IHS or law enforcement.
IHS said it cannot comment on whether these previous complaints occurred. It confirmed that Ibarra-Perocier's wife worked as the clinical director from July 2006 to Oct. 2018, but said she was not his supervisor.
Ibarra-Perocier appeared in court after Stanley Patrick Weber was sentenced Monday at the federal court in Rapid City to five life sentences, plus 45 years, for sexually abusing four Native American boys over a 12-year period while working as a pediatrician at the Pine Ridge IHS. Weber is also serving an 18-year sentence for sexually abusing two Native American boys from the Blackfeet Reservation while working at the IHS in Browning, Montana before he was transferred to Pine Ridge.
An investigation by Frontline and the WSJ revealed that accusations about Weber sexually abusing boys circulated among his co-workers, patients and the wider community when he worked at both IHS locations. But some complaints were ignored and not investigated, while others resulted in investigations that cleared him of any wrongdoing. The IHS transferred Weber after hearing about the complaints and retaliated against whistleblowers.
A December study by the OIG-HHS ordered after the investigation found that IHS now has strict and detailed policies to prevent and address child sexual abuse. But it still doesn't have polices that specifically address adult victims, other kinds of abuse, and perpetrators who aren't health care providers, the study found. The IHS also has shortcomings in how it stores and tracks abuse allegations.
"We will continue to institute the reforms necessary to create the high-quality care environment that our patients and employees should expect in our clinics and hospitals," the IHS said in an email.
A White House task force is expected to release recommendations for improving safety at the IHS next week, Frontline and the WSJ reported. The IHS paid a contractor $618,000 to conduct an investigation into how it handled the Weber case but won't release the report, arguing it's not a public record since it contains confidential information about patients and quality assurance.
Raleigh Hansman, a Sioux-Falls based attorney privately retained by Ibarra-Perocier, told the Journal she's not currently commenting on his case. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in South Dakota said the office isn't commenting beyond the indictment and news release.
Anyone who needs to report abuse at the IHS can call its hotline at 301-443-0658 or the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) at 800-656-4673. Patients may remain anonymous and receive assistance.
— Contact Arielle Zionts at firstname.lastname@example.org.