Eight adults filed suit Monday against Kamehameha Schools, alleging its psychiatric consultant had repeatedly sexually abused them as students but that their pleas for help were ignored by school authorities.
The plaintiffs in the Circuit Court case include Duke Kahanamoku Paoa, a nephew of Olympian swimmer and surfer Duke Kahanamoku.
The lawsuit comes two years after Kamehameha Schools agreed to pay $80 million to settle another sex abuse case brought by 32 male plaintiffs who were former students.
The suit filed Monday describes extensive, systematic and repeated sexual abuse by the late Dr. Robert Browne of the plaintiffs when they were boys, starting as young as age 13, from 1972 through 1981.
In addition to holding sessions in his office, Browne was a “dorm sponsor,” which allowed him to take boarding students off campus for sleepovers, where he sexually assaulted them, the complaint said.
It alleges that despite having explicit knowledge of his criminal activity, Kamehameha allowed the abuse, which included rape and sodomy, to continue for years and rejected the boys’ efforts to stop seeing him.
“What is new about this lawsuit is that many of the eight people that came forward actually reported this to teachers, to administrators, such that the depth of the information that Kamehameha had during the period in which the abuse was happening was much broader than we had ever recognized during the first lawsuit,” Mark Davis, a lead attorney in the case, said Monday.
The suit was filed against the trustees of the Estate of Bernice Pauahi Bishop, doing business as Kamehameha Schools.
“We appreciate the strength and courage it takes for survivors to come forward,” Kamehameha Schools said in a statement after the lawsuit was filed. “We are very sorry for past abuses suffered by Dr. Browne’s patients and will continue to uphold our commitment to do what is right for survivors. We have been working, and will continue to work, on resolving these cases.”
In 2017 Kamehameha Schools issued a formal apology acknowledging that its students “were secretly abused and physically and emotionally traumatized from 1962-1984 by Dr. Robert Browne,” and acknowledged that “not nearly enough was done” after abuses were reported.
Browne, who saw hundreds of Kamehameha students from 1958 to 1985, killed himself in 1991 after one of his former students threatened to expose his abuse.
“Decades of monstrous sexual abuse of boys occurred because Kamehameha Schools provided the pedophile, Dr. Browne, unchecked access to, and authority over, boys in his role as a psychiatrist,” the lawsuit says. “Kamehameha Schools … forced the children to go to Dr. Browne under threat of expulsion.”
Along with Paoa, the plaintiffs in the current suit are Christian K.L. Ching, Jr., Bryan Jeremiah, Mark K. Kahapea, Robert E. Luecke, Michael Ah Wuen Low and two other men who filed anonymously as John Doe 1 and 2.
A medical doctor treated boys for injuries resulting from Browne’s assaults, according to the lawsuit. The students reported the abuse to dormitory staffers and teachers, among others.
One plaintiff said the psychiatrist started drugging him with powerful narcotics after he reported the abuse. Another said he was drugged with a small white pill.
“The injuries suffered by the eight plaintiffs at the hands of Dr. Browne have haunted them for their entire lives,” Davis said. “The plaintiffs feel strongly that in addition to seeking redress for their own injuries, that Kamehameha Schools must be held accountable for the extraordinary injuries inflicted on these children and the repeated failures to stop the abuse when it was brought to the school’s attention.”
The legal complaint against Kamehameha includes counts for sexual assault and battery, breach of fiduciary duty, gross negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, grossly negligent infliction of emotional distress, and punitive damages.
The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys at Davis Levin Livingston and the Law Offices of Michael J. Green.
Their lawsuit and others were brought under an extension of the statute of limitations in Hawaii that allowed childhood victims of sexual abuse to sue no matter how long ago the abuse occurred.
“That statute has now expired,” Davis said. “These are the last cases that Kamehameha has to deal with. When all of these cases are ultimately resolved, that will close the book on this unhappy chapter in their history.”
Hawaii law requires survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file a lawsuit within eight years of turning 18 or within three years of discovering that an injury or illness during adulthood was caused by childhood sexual abuse.