The Trump administration is creating a task force to investigate how a former Indian Health Service doctor in Pine Ridge was able to sexually assault children in his care and how to prevent future abuse.
The Presidential Task Force on Protecting Native American Children in the Indian Health Service System "will examine any systemic problems that may have failed to prevent this doctor’s actions and led to any failures of the Indian Health Service to protect Native American children," the White House said in a news release Tuesday. The study will also recommend policies and protocols to prevent similar abuse from happening again.
The doctor, Stanley Patrick Weber, was sentenced to more than 18 years in federal prison after a jury found him guilty last fall of sexually abusing boys in his care on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in northwest Montana in the 1990s. Weber now awaits a September trial at the Rapid City federal courthouse to face accusations that he committed similar sex crimes against Native American boys on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Ron Parsons, U.S. Attorney for South Dakota, the district in which Weber is currently being prosecuted, praised the task force's creation.
“The protection of children is the highest priority of this office,” Parsons said in a news release. "I look forward to working with all of the tribal governments in South Dakota to help the Task Force complete the critical mission with which it has been charged.”
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IHS's handling of Weber is also being investigated by the Department of Health and Human Services and an independent contractor hired by the IHS.
"External oversight provides the Indian Health System with another opportunity to demonstrate integrity and accountability," Michael Weahkee, IHS principal deputy director, said in a news release.
Weahkee said the IHS has already made changes to prevent future abuse, such as creating stronger requirements for IHS employees to report suspected abuse and guidelines for identifying and responding to suspected child abuse.
The task force is co-chaired by Joseph Grogan, assistant to the president for domestic policy, and Trent Shores, U.S Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma. The five other members work in the fields of criminal justice, child victim services and tribal health care.