Twenty-six men — 24 former Kamehameha Schools students and two from other schools — alleged in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that as children they were systematically sexually abused and prescribed inappropriate prescription drugs by Kamehameha’s psychiatrist, who shot himself to death in 1991 when confronted by the allegations.
The Circuit Court lawsuit names 24 of the 26 alleged victims and their survivors. They are now adult lawyers, doctors, business professionals, police officers and “other prominent individuals within the Hawaiian community,” according to the Honolulu law firms of Davis Levin Livingston and Michael J. Green, which filed the suit. Most of the alleged victims and their survivors live across the islands, but some now reside in Oregon and Washington state.
Green called the plaintiffs “some of the bravest people I’ve ever known.”
“Most were in middle school,” attorney Mark Davis said. “Most thought they were the only ones.”
In a statement Kamehameha Schools said, “The claims we are hearing about today are the same that were made in the lawsuit that was originally filed in 2014. We continue to be troubled and saddened by this matter. The safety and welfare of our students is Kamehameha’s highest priority. We are working to resolve this matter in the best interests of everyone involved.”
A 2014 lawsuit against the estate of psychiatrist Dr. Robert M. Browne involving six of the plaintiffs was dismissed based on procedural grounds.
Attorneys Green and Davis said they believe the number of victims is much larger than the 26 identified in their lawsuit. They said at a news conference Tuesday that students from other Hawaii schools also were referred to Browne, who began working for Kamehameha in the 1950s.
“He was not an employee,” Davis said. “He was the designated psychiatrist, the Kamehameha Schools psychiatrist. He was the person that Kamehameha selected, paid for and charged with the obligations of providing all of the psychiatric treatment that Kamehameha Schools felt these kids needed.”
Kamehameha Schools and its board of trustees are named as defendants.
The lawsuit alleges a systematic failure by Kamehameha authorities to fulfill their mandatory reporting duties after some students and parents notified Kamehameha officials of the alleged abuse.
In 1991 “high-level” Kamehameha administrators were informed of Browne’s alleged abuse, according to the lawsuit.
“Promises were made that Kamehameha Schools would take action,” according to the lawsuit. “Instead, Kamehameha Schools did nothing. Kamehameha Schools chose to undertake a cover-up and to conceal the crimes of Dr. Browne, and refused to contact its former students to inform them that Dr. Browne’s methodology included criminal behavior and medical malpractice. … Their intentional disregard and deliberate indifference enabled Dr. Browne to rob these children of their souls with impunity, forever altering the course of their lives, violating the very express(ed) wishes and legacy of the late Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop when she established her trust for the protection and benefit of all children of Hawaiian ancestry.”
In 1983 Brown inexplicably lost his privileges at St. Francis Medical Center but continued to have privileges at Kuakini Medical Center, now known as Kuakini Health System. St. Francis Medical Center and Kuakini Health System are also named in the lawsuit.
“When he lost his offices at St. Francis, and perhaps other times, he treated students in the principal’s personal apartment (at Kamehameha),” Davis said. “He was a dorm adviser and was living in the dorms, but we don’t know when and we don’t know if he was paid.”
The attorneys said the molestation occurred at Kamehameha for 27 years between 1958 through 1985. All of the alleged victims were under the age of 16, and most were in middle school.
Most of the alleged 24 Kamehameha victims came from the neighbor islands and attended the Kapalama campus as boarders.
But one of the plaintiffs had been a third-grader at St. Patrick School and was referred to Browne in 1958. Another was a sixth-grader in 1968 who attended Kahala Elementary School and continued being Browne’s patient until he was an eighth-grader at Kaimuki Intermediate School, according to the lawsuit.
The Kamehameha Schools boys were ordered to see Browne for a wide range of issues, from adjusting to life on Oahu to minor infractions including tardiness, Green said.
The lawsuit outlines graphic allegations of rape; pornography; penetration with foreign objects that sometimes caused rectal bleeding; masturbation; oral sex; and other sexual misconduct during sessions that sometimes were conducted in Browne’s office at St. Francis, at his home in Manoa and in the residential apartment of the Kamehameha Schools principal.
Browne also served as a dorm sponsor, according to the lawsuit, “which authorized him to take physical custody of Kamehameha Schools boarding students, including the plaintiffs, from their dormitories and keep them in his home in Manoa for weekend sleep-overs where he drugged and committed further sexual abuse.”
Browne was married with children, and his wife is now also dead, Green said.
Twenty-six men and their survivors allege systematic sexual abuse and a subsequent cover-up after they were ordered to attend therapy sessions by a psychiatrist on the orders of Kamehameha Schools. They were all under the age of 16 at the time, and most were in middle school.
Lawsuit filed Tuesday against Kamehameha Schools, St. Francis Medical Center and Kuakini Health Center
Office of Dr. Robert M. Browne; personal apartment of Kamehameha Schools’ principal; Browne’s Manoa residence
Alleged abuse occurred from 1958 through 1985.
“If the plaintiffs refused to attend Dr. Browne’s therapy sessions,” according to the lawsuit, “Kamehameha Schools, through its agents, employees, associates, and/or representatives, coerced, intimidated, and/or threatened them, including threatening to expel them from Kamehameha Schools, knowing that expulsion would cast shame and disgrace upon the student and his family.”
One alleged victim, who was an 11-year-old seventh-grader in 1975, was repeatedly raped and sodomized for two years and had objects including a large, “Sharpie-type” pen forced up his rectum, causing bleeding that seeped through the boy’s uniform, khaki pants, white shirt, undershirt and underwear, according to the lawsuit.
The boy allegedly reported the abuse to officials at the Hale Ola medical dispensary, the seventh- and eighth-grade “house mother,” the seventh-grade counselor, the director of counseling and the director of boarding. None fulfilled their obligations to report the allegations, according to the lawsuit.
Browne had guns in his office that he typically showed to his patients, Green said, and often referred to gun suicide as a possible solution to their problems.
Kamehameha was confronted by the allegations in 1991, but school officials failed to respond, Green and Davis said.
On Halloween in 1991 one of Browne’s alleged victims called Browne and vowed to expose the alleged abuse. That night Browne shot himself in the head, and his body was discovered the next day in his neighbor’s backyard.
The allegations became public when one of Browne’s alleged victims stood up at an unidentified church service in 1990 and made vague allegations about an unidentified school.
A woman who attended the service told her brother, an attorney, who met with the church speaker.
According to Green, the attorney later contacted Browne and told the psychiatrist, “‘You ain’t getting away with this.’ Dr. Brown then shot himself, took his own life.”
Blake Conant attended Kamehameha and was 4 years older than his little brother, Christopher, who had been ordered to see Browne as a patient because he was having difficulty adjusting to life on Oahu after moving from their home on Kauai.
Blake told reporters Tuesday that Christopher had a difficult life far beyond Kamehameha. A month before overdosing on drugs and alcohol in 2011, Christopher for the first time revealed the abuse he allegedly suffered as a 12-year-old boarder student at Kamehameha.
Blake said Christopher told him before he died, “Brah, you have no idea what happened in my life.”
The lawsuit alleges that Browne gave Christopher prescription Valium and other drugs to desensitize him to the sexual abuse, “which led to a lifetime of addiction that resulted in Conant’s death.”
“My mom and dad entrusted Kamehameha to watch over us,” Blake said. “We revered the legacy of Pauahi. As a Hawaiian it was the ultimate. … Shame on them. Shame on them.”
Tuesday’s lawsuit was filed before the statute of limitations expires in April.