Glenn Garvin TV Reviews

Predator Documents Child Sex Abuse—and the Lackluster Response—in Indian Communities

Rather than investigating claims against a pediatrician, he was shuffled around. Sound familiar?

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Frontline: Predator on the Reservation. PBS. Wednesday, Feb. 14, 10 p.m.

Stanley Patrick Weber
'Frontline: Predator on the Reservation,' PBS

If there's a silver lining in Frontline: Predator on the Reservation, it's that we're apparently through the era of "I believe the children": the time in the 1980s when any accusation of child abuse, no matter how fantastic (molestation accompanied by devil worship, animal sacrifice, murder) was instantly credible because little kids were regarded as unimpeachable witnesses.

Predator tells a story that's exactly the opposite—the refusal of officials at the federal Indian Health Service, for nearly two decades, to acknowledge evidence that a serial child molester was loose in reservation hospitals.

Produced in cooperation with the Wall Street Journal, which covered the case extensively, Predator follows the trail of childhood destruction left by pediatrician Stanley Patrick Weber, who only a few weeks ago was sentenced to 18 years in federal prison for molestation of six reservation kids. A trial on 12 more charges is expected to start soon.

Weber was under suspicion almost instantly when he went to work in the hospital on the Blackfeet reservation in Montana in 1992. Tribal housing inspectors discovered the unmarried and childless Weber had a basement treasure-trove of candy, soft drinks and games—"stacks of stuff," as one of them put it.

Coupled with his odd case load—almost entirely boys, aged 12 to 15, from broken homes—some hospital officials quickly wanted an investigation. Others had a more benign view. "He seemed to be genuinely interested in our young people," recalls one, oblivious to the leaden irony in his own words.

The latter scenario became harder to support when a male relative of one of Weber's young patients drove over to his home and punched him in the mouth. The gossip about what happened and why quickly drove Weber's bosses to kick him out—from the hospital, but not the Indian Health Service.

In a move that recalls the Catholic Church's cover-up tactics for pederast priests (a comparison that repeatedly comes to mind in Predator), the Montana hospital administrators simply shuffled Weber off to the more remote Oglala Sioux reservation in South Dakota.

In the single most horrifying scene in Predator, one Montana administrators mildly muses that "I guess the better response would be to launch an investigation," as if somebody forgot to close a refrigerator door or left a bed unmade.

Instead, they opened the way for the formation of what the rest of the medical staff in South Dakota would call "the Weber Boys," a collection of busted-luck kids lured into sexual encounters with booze and pills.

It wasn't until another beating of the doctor—this time by some of the teenage members of the Weber Boys who wanted more drugs—that he came under serious investigation. Even then, it took years to bring Weber down, and it was done not by the Indian Health Service but by tribal prosecutors.

Predator is anything but tabloid in its low-key approach to the Weber story. It rumbles along more like a reality version of CSI as investigators blunder off the track or fail to even follow it.

It's true that child-molestation investigations can be tough to pursue, with victims who are difficult to find (especially so on the vast, trackless reservation), reluctant to talk when located, and not entirely reliable. And Weber's critics in the Indian Health Service didn't always do themselves any favor in pressing their case.

One, accused of bullying Weber, snapped: "If I'd have wanted to intimidate him, I'd have cut his nuts off with a rusty knife." Typically, that doctor—judged potentially violent and dangerous—was shipped off to an obscure corner of the reservation tundra.

And that's the chilling bottom line of Predator, not that the investigation was difficult but that it mostly didn't exist. His bosses found it easier to shove him off under somebody else's bed.

It's of a piece with other scandals, from pervasive malpractice to chronic misdiagnosis, that have repeatedly surfaced over the past decade at the Indian Health Service. Other federal health agencies, particularly the Veterans Administration, have had similar problems. As the calls to put the U.S. medical system under control of a single, benevolent Washington payer echo around the halls of Congress, Predator is worth paying attention to.

NEXT: Houston Cop Involved in Deadly Drug Raid Relieved of Duty Due to 'Ongoing Questions'

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  1. In the single most horrifying scene in Predator, one Montana administrators mildly muses that “I guess the better response would be to launch an investigation,”

    Must have been the director’s cut.

    1. Yeah, I don’t remember that scene. Was it before or after Ventura went crazy with the mini-gun?

      1. Still not as horrifying as the Gillette commercial.

  2. This guy came along about a decade after my stint of working as a Native American certified D & A counselor on another reservation in Montana. The BIA took over the Labre Indian School after the Catholic Church bowed out. However, there were a bunch of social programs that the Catholics still ran, some that the Mormons ran, and others that other federal programs dealing with poverty administered. Then there were the tribal police and the FBI who would show up, sometimes with other agencies interested in narcotics enforcement along.

    Lack of money was never really a problem. As far as white specialists like me, the problem was getting good people to work, live, and raise their own families out in the middle of nowhere. This gets back to the fundamental problem of the reservation concept: a bunch of folks are going to be subsidized to sit out in the middle of nowhere and be living cultural relics. Very few of them will have modern jobs and modern paychecks.

    Imagine a big-city homeless camp that just had oodles of money pumped into it so that most everyone could have their own house with running water and light and heat and even reasonable maintenance, and maybe even a car, although most do not have conventional jobs to go to. Once you have that picture in your mind, subtract the big city and put the whole thing out in the middle of nowhere. That’s a reservation.

    1. Don’t have to imagine, grew up on it and live right next to it. Driving through Ft. peck Reservation sometimes feels like driving through a war zone (actually had Iraq veterans who have told me it reminds them of Iraq in a way).

  3. Fucking Reason. I have tried to post multiple times today my experience growing up on the reservation and living next to one (I’m white BTW). It would shock most people who have no familiarity with it. Cliff notes: sex abuse, rape and neglect is everyday occurrences. The number of missing children and women is so large no one even knows how large it is. Tribal law enforcement is a joke most times and corrupt, tribal councils are often corrupt, local law enforcement (state and county) usually has no authority. Single and absent parents are the norm. Drugs and alcohol are a way of life for many. Many have nothing to do with their lives and little education (despite all the money spent on educating them, including free college if they choose). They receive free housing, food, clothing and often receive per diem checks, as well as tribal health. It is just devastating to witness.

    1. Oh and many American Indians are the most racist people you’ll ever meet. Hell, they are even prejudiced against other tribes, even on the same Rez.

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