Delaware crime: Panel did get report on Dr. Earl Bradley
Abuse wasn't noted, medical group says
The Medical Society of Delaware acknowledged publicly for the first time Thursday that a panel of doctors received and discussed "a communication" from the sister of pediatrician Earl B. Bradley five years before he was charged with raping nine girls he treated.
Also Thursday, Bradley's sister and former officer manager, Lynda Barnes, confirmed in her first public comments that she had reported him to the society.
Though society officials and Barnes would not disclose exactly what she reported to them, in court documents made public last month police said she told them during a 2005 investigation of Bradley that he had financial problems and took antidepressants from the office. She also told them that parents had complained he improperly touched their daughters, police said.
What the medical society knew at the time is critical to an investigation by the Attorney General's Office into whether medical and law enforcement officials broke state law by failing to report their knowledge or suspicions that a doctor "is or may be guilty of unprofessional conduct."
Such reports must be made to the Delaware Board of Medical Practice, a state agency that investigates and disciplines physicians. The medical society is a trade association of about 1,600 Delaware doctors.
The medical society in recent weeks tried to quash an attorney general's subpoena demanding the minutes of a Dec. 14, 2004, meeting of its Physicians' Health Committee. Prosecutors wrote that they wanted documents covering discussions about Bradley's "fitness" to practice medicine and whether members were required to file a report with the medical board.
In a brief Superior Court hearing Tuesday, Judge Jan R. Jurden ordered the society to turn over minutes of that 2004 meeting to prosecutors. The society has since complied with the order, State Solicitor Lawrence W. Lewis and the society's lawyer, Victor F. Battaglia Sr., said Thursday.
Medical society officials had previously denied ever receiving "a letter complaining'' about Bradley. But Thursday, Dr. Carol A. Tavani, a psychiatrist who chairs the society's health panel, confirmed that Barnes had made a report to them, though Tavani stressed it included "nothing about improper touching," nor was any information deemed "reportable" to the medical board.
Last month, Attorney General Beau Biden ordered an investigation into why the Board of Medical Practice was never notified about Bradley. Biden's order came in response to revelations in The News Journal that doctors, nurses, police and prosecutors knew or suspected for years that Bradley abused patients — including one doctor who told police he referred to Bradley as "a pedophile" when speaking with other physicians.
Failure to report unprofessional conduct, which Delaware law deems an "affirmative duty," can bring a fine of $250 to $5,000. If a report had been received, the 16-member Board of Medical Practice, composed of medical professionals and private citizens, would have been required by law to investigate, and if warranted, discipline Bradley publicly. Yet no one reported Bradley to the board.
Bradley, 56, was charged in December with raping nine children ranging from 3 months to 13 years over the previous four months. He is being held in lieu of $2.9 million bail at the state prison near Smyrna.
The allegations about Bradley include holding toddlers upside down and yelling at them while committing sex acts, and penetrating a girl's vagina with his hand when she was brought in for a sore throat. Biden's office, which with the FBI is reviewing videotapes seized from Bradley's office and home, said Bradley filmed many rapes and that there could be as many as 100 victims dating to 1998.
His sister's report
Bradley's BayBees Pediatrics, with a main office near Lewes, had another office in Milford during that time. Though Bradley denied any wrongdoing in interviews with police, detectives also spoke with employees and physicians who had worked with him.
Detectives eventually decided to charge Bradley with offensive touching, a misdemeanor that could have resulted in a sentence of probation or one year in prison and a $2,300 fine. It also could have cost Bradley his license to practice medicine.
Prosecutors, however, decided they could not win the case and declined to press charges.
During the investigation, Milford police spoke with Barnes, whose account was detailed in the recently released probable-cause affidavit used to search Bradley's office after he was arrested in December. Though Barnes, 64, of Long Neck, was identified only as "Witness 5" in the affidavit, she confirmed Thursday that she was the witness.
According to the police account of their interview with Barnes, she had been Bradley's office manager for three years but was fired after confronting him about his personal and financial problems.
Among her allegations, Barnes said her brother was bipolar and took office samples of Zoloft, Paxil and other drugs for "his own needs," police wrote.
She told police an uncle of Bradley's had been arrested years earlier on child-sex charges. (The uncle, retired teacher William A. Bradley Jr. of State College, Pa., was convicted in 1992 of lewd behavior and exposing himself to young girls. He died in 1997.)
Barnes also told police that patients' parents told her of improper touching by Bradley, who "would pick up girls and have his hand under their clothing." Barnes also recalled that one parent let only a younger daughter see Bradley because her older girl refused to be treated by him because he often kissed her.
The detective also wrote that Barnes "filed a complaint with the Delaware Medical Society outlining her concerns." The report was in the form of a letter sent to Tavani, who gave it to then-society president Dr. James P. Marvel Jr., for investigation, police wrote.
Barnes told police she spoke with Marvel, who told her Bradley suffered from depression and financial problems in Philadelphia, police wrote. Bradley moved to Delaware in 1994, and worked for Beebe Medical Center and a private practice before opening his Disney-themed Baybees Pediatrics in the late 1990s.
In a brief telephone interview Thursday, Barnes said Marvel told her he took her concerns "very seriously" but had "talked to my brother and decided it was a family issue."
Barnes would not say what concerns she had put in her complaint and said, "I did not witness anything. I was an office manager. I saw nothing."
Instead, she said, employees i
ncluding a nurse and clerk had told her of their concerns and she felt obligated to report her brother, from whom she was then estranged, to the society's "impaired physicians' committee."
Asked about the criminal charges against Bradley, Barnes replied, "I love my brother and I will stand by him."
The medical society
"We've checked our physician health files … and there is no evidence of a letter complaining about Dr. Bradley," said Wendy L. Gainor, the society's senior director of professional services.
Gainor said then she was speaking on behalf of Marvel, a Lewes orthopedic surgeon who did not return a reporter's calls.
The Physicians' Health Committee, which consists of about a dozen physicians, assists society members with personal or professional troubles.
Tavani, the committee's chairwoman, said then that Bradley "has never been followed by the physicians' health program. There is no such letter that came to my office. I can tell you that because I would have seen it."
On Thursday, however, Gainor, the spokeswoman for the society, did not return calls to her office.
A reporter also contacted Marvel's office in Lewes, but a receptionist said she had been told to tell reporters "to contact the state attorney's office" and hung up.
Mark A. Meister, the society's executive director, said employees checked files in January and did not find a letter about Bradley.
Tavani said Thursday the society did receive "a communication" from Barnes, "but in terms of anything reportable," nothing was received.
"Improper touching of patients was never discussed or received regarding this guy, but I can't go into detail" of what the committee talked about on Dec. 14, 2004, she said, adding that the society was cooperating with prosecutors.
Battaglia, the group's lawyer, said the society balked at surrendering the minutes only because it didn't want to violate its members' privacy. The judge, however, agreed with prosecutors that the state's investigatory powers outweighed privacy rights in this case.
State Solicitor Lewis said prosecutors have issued subpoenas to several individuals and agencies in connection with the investigation, but would not discuss what has been received or any other aspects of the probe.
Although the medical society now acknowledges it received Barnes' report about Dr. Bradley, Battaglia echoed Tavani in stressing that the society did not receive — or ignore — allegations of patient abuse by Bradley.
"There was never any complaint," the lawyer said, "that made any suggestion of improper contract with a patient."