Report: Montana hospital employee discouraged client from reporting sexual assault

HELENA, Mont. — The chief investigator of a state-run hospital in Montana encouraged a mentally disabled woman to recant her accusation that a staffer sexually assaulted her, officials have found.

The investigator, Keith Reeder, also discouraged another Montana Developmental Center employee from taking the woman to a hospital or taking any action that would bring the attention of outside law enforcement, an investigative report into the 2010 allegations said.

Two years later, the hospital staffer, Allen Whetstone, is serving a five-year prison term after pleading guilty to sexual assault. Reeder still works for the hospital for the developmentally disabled after state health officials cleared him of wrongdoing.

 “I never covered up anything,” Reeder said Thursday in a brief interview.

Department of Public Health and Human Services spokesman Jon Ebelt said his agency conducted its own probe in 2010 that found Reeder “complied with department policy and conducted himself in a professional manner.”

Jefferson County Attorney Matt Johnson said his office examined whether Reeder could be charged with not reporting a sexual assault, but he was uncertain there was enough evidence against him and hoped the health department would address those personnel issues in some way.

 “I would have to say I’m not sure if they were addressed adequately or not,” Johnson said.

In May 2010, a 29-year-old patient at the hospital told an employee that Whetstone assaulted her when they were alone in a secluded room, according to the investigative report.

Whetstone, who was her work supervisor, gave the patient a bag of Skittles and told her to keep silent or he would get in trouble. The patient told another hospital employee, and the report ended up with Reeder, the hospital’s chief investigator and client protection specialist.

Reeder met briefly with the patient before he told Leigh Ann Holmes, a qualified mental retardation professional, that the woman had recanted the allegation.

Later, the woman told a Jefferson County sheriff’s deputy that Reeder told her to take back the story and said that if she was lying, she would be moved to a special locked-down part of the campus. She became worried that her request to move into group housing would be denied and she also worried about the fate of Whetstone, whom she had called her friend.

 “She said Reeder told her to change her story because Whetstone could get into a lot of trouble and maybe even lose his job,” the investigative report said.

Reeder was placed on administrative leave while the health department looked into the allegations against him.

Holmes told investigators that Reeder discouraged her from driving the woman to a Helena hospital, saying the rape examination would be too traumatic for her. He also discouraged her from taking any other action that would bring the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office into the investigation, according to the report.

Investigators said Reeder had rejected previous allegations of sexual abuse against Whetstone in 2006 and 2008 as being inconclusive. At one point, Reeder was warned not to interview any more possible victims before forensic interviewers spoke to them or it “would be considered obstruction of a criminal investigation.”

(To read full article, visit this Washington Post link)

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