Former University of Michigan team doctor investigated for multiple sex abuse complaints
Palm Springs, California — The University of Michigan is investigating several "disturbing and very serious" allegations of sexual abuse against a now-deceased member of its physician team, officials confirmed to The Detroit News on Wednesday.
The doctor implicated in the reports, Robert E. Anderson, was a former director of the University Health Service and spent years as a top physician for football teams led by former coaches Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr.
The university said it was first alerted to allegations against Anderson in July 2018, when a former student athlete wrote to Athletic Director Warde Manuel to detail abuse during medical exams by Anderson in the early 1970s.
UM sent out a press release calling for any victims to contact the university. The response to The News came after the newspaper asked for comment from UM about Anderson's alleged misconduct, which includes sexual abuse and unneeded or unwanted exams.
He becomes at least the fourth university physician nationwide to be accused of sexual misconduct in just the last few years, and the disclosure comes while UM Provost Martin Philbert remains suspended amid sexual misconduct allegations that emerged in January.
A Palm Springs, California, UM alumnus last August sent school officials an essay he wrote, "My Michigan Me-too Moment, 1971."
In the essay, former Detroit resident Robert Julian Stone accused Anderson of sexually assaulting him nearly 50 years ago.
Stone said he learned from UM officials that the Washtenaw County Prosecutor's Office was reviewing his case, along with "many other victims" who have lodged similar claims. He also said a UM police detective told him the university became aware of allegations against Anderson years ago, then moved him from his post at UM Student Health Services to become the team physician for UM athletes.
Responding to inquiries from The News about the allegations, UM officials announced Wednesday they were investigating Anderson and had received reports of "sexual misconduct and unnecessary medical exams" from former patients, most of them from the 1970s but at least one from as late as the 1990s. The university said its police department began investigating allegations in July 2018 and hired an outside law firm to conduct an independent inquiry.
"The allegations that were reported are disturbing and very serious," UM President Mark Schlissel said in a statement. "We promptly began a police investigation and cooperated fully with the prosecutor's office."
The university said it would open a hotline for former patients to report abuse allegations against Anderson: (866) 990-0111.
Asked Wednesday why the university did not publicly ask victims to come forward until after being contacted by The News, UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said, "The university took this action based on receipt of an initial review by the external law firm and the prosecutor's decision Tuesday" not to file criminal charges.
Washtenaw County Prosecutor Steven Hiller said Wednesday that his office finished its review of the case last fall and concluded that because Anderson had died and so much time had passed since the alleged incidents, that no charges could be filed.
Fitzgerald said the UM police investigation identified four additional former patients with similar allegations against Anderson.
“It is our understanding from the police investigation that there were rumors and some indication that UM staff members were aware of Dr. Anderson’s inappropriate medical exams,” he said.
Stone, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UM during the 1970s, composed an account last summer of the assault that he says occurred when he went for a medical exam in June 1971 with Anderson, who was then head of the UM Student Health Service.
After Stone sent his written account to two top UM officials, he spoke with university police and filed a report alleging that Anderson dropped his pants during a medical exam, grabbed Stone’s hand and used it to fondle the doctor’s genitals.
Anderson died in 2008.
Outside the university, a woman filed a lawsuit in 1995 against Anderson, saying she felt violated by the doctor during a medical exam she needed for employment. But the case was dismissed.
In emails that Stone shared with The News, UM officials apologized, and another asked if any UM employee had known about his allegations and failed to act. Then, a UM police detective called him to get more information.
While at UM, Anderson was known as “Dr. A” and served as the UM Athletic Department team physician. His career, which began in 1968, included working with the football team during 25 bowl games and under four coaches, including the late Schembechler and Carr. He retired from UM in 2003.
'Me too includes men'
Stone, who is gay, retired and living with his husband in Palm Springs, said the alleged experience affected him deeply. It turned him off to medicine for a long time, and also made him realize sexual abuse can happen to anyone.
"It gave me a firsthand knowledge that these things happen to men, and that wasn't a knowledge I particularly wanted to have," Stone, 69, said in an interview with The News at his home. "'Me too' includes men, too."
He said he is coming forward for many reasons, including a notion that he said was dispelled after he reported Anderson to UM and learned more allegations had been made about the doctor.
“When I first wrote to the university, I thought, ‘Well, Dr. Anderson was a closeted gay man,’ and I had some compassion for a man at that time in that position,” Stone said. “Now I realize he wasn't a closeted gay man. He was a sexual predator, and that's … a criminal thing.”
Washtenaw County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Steven Hiller confirmed that the office received a report of an investigation conducted by the UM police department containing "allegations of criminal wrongdoing" by Anderson.
Hiller said that a formal request for criminal prosecution did not accompany the report. Even so, the supervisor of the prosecutor's office’s charging function reviewed the report to determine if the possibility of criminal prosecution existed.
"Because Dr. Anderson is deceased, no criminal prosecution of him would be possible regardless of whether the facts set for the report supported such an action," Hiller said in an email. "Furthermore, the ability to prosecute any ancillary offenses that may have been committed by others would have been extinguished by the statute of limitations decades ago. Therefore, this office’s review of the report has concluded."
Hiller referred questions about how many victims were in the report to UM police.
Anderson’s wife, now 91 and living in Alaska, could not be reached for comment. But two of his three children, Jill Anderson and Kurt Anderson, said their father could never have done such a thing.
"That’s ridiculous," said Jill Anderson. "My dad was a beloved doctor at the UM for so many years. He was very well-respected. Everyone said he treated them with the utmost integrity and care."
She spoke about her father for more than 30 minutes, alternating between shock and anger about the allegations, and pride in her father's legacy.
She said her father was at the forefront of medicine for athletes, and wrote protocols for how young men should be screened before they came into athletic programs. She also said he cared for thousands of athletes, had a private practice, helped young couples get pregnant and also started a venereal disease clinic at the UM health service.
Jill Anderson said she recognized that her father worked in the same field in which others have spoken out about sexual misconduct, including victims of Larry Nassar, the former Michigan State University sports doctor who is in prison for sexually assaulting hundreds of women under the guise of medicine.
" I have great appreciation for people speaking up and saying that something is wrong," said Jill Anderson. "That is not something I would have ever have believed of my father."
Kurt Anderson, the doctor's youngest son, was stunned by the accusations.
"That is just not him," he said. "When he passed away, it was patient after patient who came and said they loved him. No one has ever said anything like that."
The #MeToo era
The allegation comes during an era when people across society are bringing complaints about sexual assaults from the past for closure, accountability and justice.
For the past three years, MSU has faced fierce criticism over its handling of allegations against Nassar, regarded as one of the worst sexual offenders in history.
Former MSU president Lou Anna Simon faces a yet-to-be scheduled trial this year for her alleged role in the scandal.
On Friday, a jury convicted former MSU head gymnastics coach Kathie Klages of lying to investigators about her knowledge of sex abuse allegations against Nassar.
Other universities have faced scandals involving high-profile sexual predators in their ranks, including Pennsylvania State University, the University of Southern California and Ohio State University, which faces lawsuits from about 350 men alleging the school failed to stop sports doctor Richard Strauss from abusing them between 1979 and 1997.
At UM, the school's second-highest official, Provost Martin Philbert, was suspended last month after several sexual misconduct allegations were lodged against him.
Stone said he was assaulted during his junior year when he was 20 and coming out as a gay man.
Stone, who graduated as salutatorian from Detroit’s Denby High School in 1968, said the incident with Anderson happened on June 30, 1971.
He said he had learned from a sexual partner that he might have been exposed to a sexually transmitted disease. Stone said he didn’t know what to do, so he talked with some of his friends, who suggested seeing Anderson because he took care of gay men on campus and didn’t refer them to the public health department.
Reflecting back on the day, Stone remembered going into Anderson’s office, which was in the front of the building now known as University Health Service, on Fletcher Street. He recalled the sunlight flooding the room and seeing pictures in the doctor's office that suggested he was married and had young children.
Stone recalls telling Anderson about his possible exposure to a venereal disease.
Anderson asked him to come into an exam room connected to his office. While in the room, the doctor began telling Stone about the symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases and asked him if he knew how to look for signs.
Then, Stone said, the doctor dropped his pants, began demonstrating on himself, then reached for Stone’s hand and placed it on his penis.
Afterward, Stone said, he was incensed.
“When I left that office, and even before I left that office, I was so angry,” he said. “I was white-hot angry, and I was completely disgusted. I was disgusted with him. I was appalled that anyone would do this to another human being. I never got over that.”
Stone said he did not tell anyone at the university about the incident.
But he was livid with the classmate who had suggested that he see Anderson, and told him what had happened.
“I (said), ‘Does he do this to every gay man that goes to see him for treatment? Did he do this to you? Is this the kind of thing that you were aware of? And if it was, why the hell didn't you tell me?’"
"He would not speak to me. He wouldn't answer any of those questions. He wouldn't say anything, and I never saw or spoke to him again.”
The man whom Stone said he told about the alleged assault could not be reached.
Decades without resolution
Stone stayed in Michigan for a brief time after earning his degrees and worked as a substitute teacher in Detroit schools before moving to San Francisco in August 1974. He worked for the federal government for 15 years, primarily as a systems analyst, and in 1989 began building a long-term relationship with a partner, who was one of the few people he told about the alleged assault.
Over the years, Stone said he carried the incident in the back of his mind, which prompted him in 1993 to obtain his medical records from the university. More than two decades had passed since his visit with Anderson, but he wanted to see what was in his record on the day in question.
When the records arrived in a manila envelope, Stone went through them until he found the one documenting the day of the alleged assault, On the record, he saw that it said “VD Survey.”
In the medical record that Stone showed The News, he had written in red pen on the record: “This was the visit!! ‘VD survey.’ HA!”
Stone, an author of four books and a former entertainment reporter for the Bay Area Reporter, a gay news publication, wrote about the alleged assault then, and even thought about putting it in one of his books, a memoir. But he didn’t come forward.
When his partner of 23 years died suddenly of a heart attack in 2013, Stone began a massive purge of his belongings, preparing to start over. He threw away hundreds of pictures and many documents, including his UM diplomas and transcripts.
But he kept his UM medical records.
“In retrospect, I find that so revealing,” Stone said. “I wasn't resolved on what happened.”
Stone continued to write privately about the alleged assault.
But it wasn’t until last summer, on Aug. 18, that he emailed “Anderson’s Boys, My Michigan Me-too Moment, 1971” to Robert Ernst, executive director of the University Health Service, and Elizabeth Cole, then acting dean of UM’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts, where Stone’s academic career began.
“I have carried this in my head for almost half a century. … It was time,” Stone wrote.
Four days passed. The first person to respond to Stone was UM Police Detective Mark West, according to emails Stone forwarded to The News.
“I would like to say first that I am sorry this happened to you,” West wrote in an Aug. 22 email, “and second, let you know that I believe you.”
A few hours later, Cole sent Stone an email.
“I am very sorry for what happened to you," she wrote. "No one should experience such a thing, and I want to assure you that I and the university — and our incoming new dean Anne Curzan — are deeply committed to creating an institution where no one does.”
Cole said she would forward his complaint to the UM police department and the university's Office of Institutional Equity.
Elizabeth Seney, UM's Title IX coordinator, sent an email to Stone on Sept. 3, letting him know she was aware he reached out to Ernst and Cole.
“I would be happy to speak with you if you would like to do so for any reason," said Seney, whose job includes making the final call on the validity of sexual misconduct reports.
"In particular, if you have concerns that anyone employed by the University may have been aware of concerns and failed to appropriately report and/or address the concerns, please do not hesitate to let me know."
Stone also heard on Sept. 3 from Ernst, who thanked him and said, "I am very sorry that what you described happened."
"I can assure you that Dr. Anderson (is) no longer affiliated with the university, and it is my understanding that he is now in fact deceased," Ernst wrote. "Still, based upon your detailed description of the events that took place at UHS I did share your email right away as part of a report to the UM Police Dept. and the Office of Institutional Equity."
The apologies from Ernst and Cole surprised him, Stone said, as did the police referral by Cole.
"I kind of expected a host of denials or, 'Oh gee, that's too bad. We'll get back to you someday.'" Stone said. "I just wasn't expecting someone to come right out and say, 'Yeah, I get it. I believe you.' And she did that. I appreciated it. And then she made the referral to Detective West at the university police department, which I thought was so strange. I thought, 'Well really? I'm sure Anderson's dead by now.' And then I got the call from Detective West."
While Stone said he didn't want to get anyone in trouble, he said he learned many things about the investigation from West, who was the only UM official he spoke with on the phone. Stone vividly recalled the first telephone conversation with West, who he said called him while he was in Ojai, California, celebrating his 69th birthday on Aug. 20.
"That's when I learned that there were many other cases," said Stone.
Stone said he spoke by phone two others times with West and learned about other allegations.
"I didn't know that he continued molesting people at the Health Service," said Stone. "And then because they (UM) had that problem, they transferred him over to make him the team physician at Michigan. I didn't know any of that."
West asked Stone to send his medical records. After they arrived, Stone said the detective called him and asked if the rectal examination that the doctor gave him was medically necessary.
"In this instance it was, and that's when he revealed that the (alleged) sexual assaults of the athletes involved unnecessary and inappropriate rectal examinations," Stone said.
"He referred to Dr. Anderson as a monster."
West did not respond to phone and email messages from The News this week.
"I was not prepared for where the letter would lead," Stone continued, "or the new revelations that have shaken me, disturbed me and continue to haunt me."
In early January, Stone sought a copy of the report that resulted from his allegations. At West's direction, Stone emailed Jesse Johnson, records and evidence manager at the UM police department.
"As you were previously notified by Det. West, that report could not be released until the Prosecutor's Office has completed its review," Johnson wrote on Jan. 3. "The report still does not contain any documentation that the review has been completed. That report thus cannot be released to you at this time. That report is also extremely large and documents many other victims, and any release will have to be heavily redacted."
Stone asked if the case was open and when the file was sent to the Prosecutor's Office for review.
Johnson wrote: "Yes, it is open. The case was first submitted on 04-24-19, but there are many victims, so follow up supplemental reports were submitted after that as they were completed."
Stone isn't the first to accuse Anderson of inappropriate behavior.
In 1995, a woman filed a lawsuit in Washtenaw County Circuit Court against Anderson, alleging that she felt violated by him after she was required to undergo a pre-employment physical examination for a job as a receptionist with Allied Inc., an Ann Arbor business.
The company sent the job applicant to Anderson, the retained physician, and he allegedly touched and manipulated her breasts "purportedly" as part of a breast exam, and performed a vaginal and rectal exam, according to the lawsuit. She later found out from other female colleagues that the exam was not routine.
"As a result of these 'examinations,' plaintiff felt extremely uncomfortable, violated and confused as to why they had occurred," the suit said.
The woman stopped talking with her attorney, Lore A. Rogers, according to a filing with the suit, and the complaint was dismissed soon after.
Reached via email, the woman declined to comment.
Rogers, now a staff attorney and staff training coordinator for Michigan Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention and Treatment Board, said she could not recall the case and declined to comment.
Jill Anderson questioned Stone's motives for coming forward years after her father died.
"What's the point of it, to drag my dad’s name through the dirt?" she said. "There is no way to disprove it."
Stone said he is going public with his story in hopes of encouraging other victims to speak up and reveal the truth about the extent of sexual abuse of men.
"And we'll only know that if people step forward," Stone said. "I don't think any man would really want to be the face of male sexual assault survivors in the 21st century. But if men don't start coming forward, these things are just going to go on."