A man testified Tuesday that a late Connecticut doctor suspected of molesting scores of children performed a sex act on him in the late 1960s while he and his three brothers were taking part in what was supposed to be a human growth study.
The man, using the pseudonym William Roe, was a witness in a Waterbury Superior Court trial on the claims by another alleged victim of Dr. George Reardon, who died in 1998.
The civil case is the first to reach trial among about 90 people who are suing St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center of Hartford, claiming hospital officials failed to prevent the abuse. The hospital's lawyers say hospital officials didn't know about the abuse.
Roe testified that Reardon asked his mother for permission to include him and his three brothers in the growth study after one brother had his tonsils removed at St. Francis in 1967.
Roe said he and his brothers saw Reardon individually at the hospital for the study. When it was his turn, Roe said, he undressed and Reardon measured his genitals. He said Reardon then told him he needed to stimulate him, and then proceeded to touch his genitals to the point of ejaculation. Roe said he was 9 or 10 years old at the time.
Afterward, Roe's mother asked him and his brothers how the study went.
"We all agreed that it was a very strange experience and that we did not want to return," Roe testified, but they did not give her all the details. "She told us we didn't have to go back."
Reardon practiced at St. Francis for three decades. Police believe he abused hundreds, possibly thousands, of children under the guise of a bogus growth study. The abuse was uncovered in 2007 when the owner of Reardon's former home in West Hartford cracked open a wall during a renovation project and found thousands of videos and slides showing children in various sexual acts and positions.
The plaintiff in the case that began Tuesday is a firefighter in his early 40s who says he and his brother were molested by Reardon at least 75 times when they were boys in the 1970s. His lawyer, Michael Stratton, told the jury in his opening statement that his client suffers from anxiety, depression and has trouble with personal relationships because of Reardon.
Stratton said St. Francis officials failed to check if Reardon's growth study was valid, failed to monitor it and failed to protect children. Stratton said Reardon never published the study's results, and he accused the hospital of essentially giving Reardon access to countless victims in a "private playground."
"Nobody ever asks why are we doing this?" Stratton asked, referring to the growth study. "Dr. Reardon's dead. You can't make him pay. ... He couldn't have done this without the hospital looking the other way for 20 years."
The hospital's attorney, Paul Williams, told the jury that any anger should be directed at Reardon, not the hospital. He said no one told hospital administrators about the abuse when it was happening.
"We are all angry at what he did," Williams said. "We're certainly not in any way defending his actions."
From all outward appearances, Reardon was a respected endocrinologist who trained many fellow physicians and was involved in legitimate research and publications, Williams said.
Investigators say the plaintiffs represent only a small fraction of the children brutalized by Reardon. It's not clear yet whether each of their cases will be tried individually, if settlements aren't reached beforehand.
Police have identified 250 victims by name, but hundreds of other children in the pornographic images never came forward. Investigators believe Reardon victimized at least 500 children, but they also believe the number of victims could be in the thousands.
Police who interviewed the victims say many have struggled with broken relationships, substance-abuse problems, even suicide attempts.
The abuse began in the 1950s, when Reardon was a young doctor in Albany, N.Y., and continued in Connecticut through the 1980s, authorities say. He resigned in 1993 amid molestation accusations, but he was never charged. In 1995, he was prohibited from practicing medicine in Connecticut or any other state.
The officers who sifted through the photographs describe soul-wrenching images: Children posed in the nude, often in sexually suggestive poses or with objects inserted into their bodies. Some claim Reardon forced them to simulate sex acts with other children and manipulated their genitalia.
The victims came from across Connecticut's capital area through referrals, but they were concentrated in the affluent suburb of West Hartford.