Accusations come full circle for Texas doctor and sheriff who attacked whistleblowers
There are new developments in the story of the Texas doctor and the sheriff who used their power to penalize a pair of nurses.
Winkler County Sheriff Robert Roberts is on trial for misusing his position to gain access to documents from the Texas Medical Board. Nurses Anne Mitchell and Vicki Galle had complained to the board that Dr. Rolando Arafiles had been stealing hospital supplies and running an herbal remedy business out of Winkler County Memorial Hospital.
Roberts went into attack mode as soon as he found out about the complaint. He crafted a case against the nurses that led to them being indicted by the Winkler County Attorney for allegedly breaking Texas Penal Code 39.06, which bars the misuse of official information. The sheriff – and the attorney – accused them of using information about patients to complain to the board.
Now Roberts is the one being accused. The Texas Attorney General's Office says he is the one who misused official information and that he did so to retaliate against Mitchell and Galle. Audrie Palmer at the Midland Reporter-Telegram has been covering the trial, and led a story this week with a scene of law enforcement audacity that would be hard to believe had it not been described under oath.
Marla Brooks, Texas Medical Board investigator, told jurors Thursday she felt she and her colleague were being dismissed by Sheriff Robert Roberts when they were at the Winkler County Hospital in June 2009 conducting their investigation.
Roberts told her and Linda Lancaster that he needed to see them for a moment and to step into a conference room. She said in court she couldn't understand why they needed to see the sheriff because they were examining the hospital's Dr. Rolando Arafiles' medical records. He was under investigation by the board.
"Now ladies, I think we have a misunderstanding with the board," she recalled him saying in an authoritative tone. "We know who the complainants are. Who you consider complainants, we consider suspects."
That sounds like a scene out of a Scorcese movie. The Departed, perhaps?
Arafiles was arrested and charged in December with misuse of official information and retaliation, the same charges leveled against Roberts. He has yet to go to trial but he could end up serving 20 years in prison.
The most damning testimony against Roberts so far came from a patient of Arafiles who left his office after Arafiles refused to treat him for an ear infection unless he underwent a battery of excessive tests. He complained to the medical board. Roberts tracked down the patient, Domingo Guzman, and confronted him. Then Roberts apparently contended that "the 10 patients mistreated by Arafiles in the TMB complaint were all completely satisfied and there were no complaints about the treatments they had received."
It's hard to see how any of those patients would have backed away from their complaints, unless they had been intimidated by a man with a badge. According to the medical board's case against him, filed in June 2010, Arafiles attempted to treat a case of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, otherwise known as the Superbug, with olive oil. That's not an experience one quickly forgets.
The medical board case against Arafiles – not the criminal case – ended as these cases so often do, with a slap on the wrist.
In February 2011, Arafiles struck a deal with the board that saved his license and saved him from any serious restrictions. The board said that Arafiles had to take some classes on, for example, record keeping and thyroid disease. They said he had to allow another physician to temporarily monitor his practice. They also made him take a test in "medical jurisprudence," and gave him three tries to pass. His fine was relatively cheap, considering how much public money has been spent dealing with the fallout from his retaliation against the nurses. He had to pay just $5,000.
But here's the beautiful thing. Just as the sheriff is now on trial for the very crimes he attempted to pin on the whistleblower nurses, Arafiles has now caught himself in his own trap. The board found that Arafiles "failed to maintain confidentiality of a patient."
None of this seems to bother the folks in charge of Cozby Germany Hospital in Grand Saline, Texas. That's where Arafiles now works. Beau Berman at CBS 7 News in Odessa, Texas, talked to the administrator, Patty Vasquez who had an interesting response.
Berman asked, "Did you know that he had been arrested on a felony charge last year?"
Vasquez responded, "Yes, I've looked at some allegations that I found on the Internet. He's currently dealing with the Medical Board with those."
Hmmm. There seems to be some basic misunderstanding of the difference between a civil proceeding (the Medical Board) and a criminal one (the state Attorney General's Office). Maybe a "medical jurisprudence" class is in order?
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