UM official 'fired' doctor accused of sex abuse, but he stayed on another 24 years

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Dr. Robert E. Anderson treated students at the University of Michigan for 24 years after being forced out of student health services for "fooling around with male students" in exam rooms, according to a police investigation.

The administrator who ousted Anderson as director of the University Health Service in 1979 was stunned to learn from police that Anderson continued as a doctor in athletics and other capacities, according to a police interviews with Thomas Easthope, then UM associate director of students. Anderson went on to be the top physician for the University of Michigan football team until his retirement in 2003. 

Dr. Robert E. Anderson is shown in an undated photo provided by the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan. Documents from the FOIA request responded to by the Washtenaw County Prosecutor's Office are also shown.

"Easthope thought Dr. Anderson was gone, gone for good," according to Detective Mark West's report of the interview. He wrote that Easthope was "visibly upset" when informed by police that Anderson continued at the university for nearly another quarter century.

"Easthope reported that we (the police) may have over 100 victims."

The 2018 report was part of a 124-page police investigative file about allegations against Anderson that was reviewed by the Washtenaw County Prosecutor's office and obtained Friday by The Detroit News under the Freedom of Information Act.

Read report: Police sex assault investigation into University of Michigan Dr. Robert E. Anderson

The investigative documents make clear that officials at the University of Michigan were aware of sexual abuse allegations against Anderson, who died in 2008. It is not clear, however, why or how he moved as a practicing physician in another position at the university. 

The records paint a sweeping account of alleged sexual abuse for decades behind medical doors, and other UM officials who heard rumors about Anderson but did nothing to address them.

The documents describe Anderson's 35 years at the University of Michigan as the director of the University Health Service, the team physician who was remembered in his 2008 obituary as "Dr. A." Some students had another name for him: Dr. "Drop Your Drawers" Anderson, according to the police report.

According to a document dated Aug. 13, 1979, Anderson was to be moved from his position as director of the health service to clinical instructor effective Jan. 14, 1980, with a reduced salary. From there, he served as the athletic department's top physician, serving football teams led by Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr.

A search warrant affidavit signed by UM Detective Ryan Cavanaugh said he and West had spoken with Easthope on Nov. 2, 2018. According to the affidavit, when asked about Anderson, Easthope referred to him as "Dr. Drop Your Drawers."

Easthope told police that activists 40 or 50 years ago approached him and told him that Anderson had assaulted many in the gay community. He told police he "would never forget walking across the campus to Health Services to fire Bob."

"Easthope said that he told Dr. Anderson that he knew he was fooling around in the exam rooms with the boy patients. Anderson just looked at him, but he did not deny it," according to the police summary.

Easthope initially told detectives he fired Anderson "on the spot" but shortly thereafter said he may have allowed the doctor to resign. He told the officers he believed Anderson had returned to private practice. Efforts to reach Easthope by phone and at his home were unsuccessful on Friday.

The release of the UM police documents comes three days after The News reported that Robert Julian Stone, a UM alumnus, and several other alleged victims went to police with allegations that the doctor molested him during a medical appointment in June 1971.

The day The News inquired about the status of the investigation, Washtenaw County prosecutors said they had completed their review and recommended no charges. The next day, UM officials announced they set up a hotline for other alleged victims to call. President Mark Schlissel later apologized.

The documents indicate UM officials received a letter from a former student and wrestler in July 2018 that he had been molested by Anderson in the 1970s, but the report languished in a staff member's "work pile" at the Office of Institutional Equity for two and a half months before being given to police to investigate. Police then aggressively investigated the allegations, only to have them go months without a review by prosecutors, documents show.

Documents suggest pattern of abuse

The documents released Friday portray a pattern of pervasive abuse by Anderson during medical exams and indicate that he had a reputation for inappropriate actions with patients.

Bill Johannesen, the wrestling coach at UM from 1974-78, told university police he remembered his athletes using the nickname "Drop your drawers Anderson" and "laughing" and "joking" about Anderson, but said he didn't remember any specific complaints filed against the doctor.

Johannesen told police wrestlers would joke that they would be going to Anderson for a "hurt elbow," then the first thing they'd be told was "take your pants down."

All of his wrestlers got yearly physicals from Anderson, Johannesen said.

Multiple wrestlers from the 1970s were interviewed by UM police in November 2018, with one saying he had heard about Anderson giving prostate exams, and another saying he had received a prostate exam.

Multiple medical officials interviewed by UM police said rectal or prostate exams were absolutely not necessary for the type of routine physicals Anderson was conducting.

Yet, one of the wrestlers told police he received a rectal exam from Anderson about "50 percent of the time," usually when he was alone in the appointment, and not when he was at a group appointment. One of the times he received a rectal exam, he had gone to Anderson for a hurt elbow.

That wrestler told UM police, "as a 19-year-old kid, you don't think to question stuff like that."

The wrestlers' names in the UM police reports were redacted.

Former UM and Olympic wrestler Andy Hrovat told the Associated Press on Thursday that Anderson had had touched him inappropriately during medical exams.

Read more:

Former University of Michigan team doctor investigated for multiple sex abuse complaints

 Alum says he told UM of doctor's sex abuse in '68 but never got a response

UM President Mark Schlissel: 'I apologize' to anyone abused by doctor

Wrestler adds to abuse allegations against UM doctor

UM knew of sex abuse reports against doctor 19 months before going public

UM paid nearly $200K to settle 2004 suit against provost Philbert

Students, faculty slam UM's handling of sex misconduct cases

UM defended Provost Martin Philbert against sexual misconduct allegations in 2004

Denhollander urges UM to be open in sex abuse inquiry

Complaint reached regulators

In a report from Nov. 9, 2018, West, the UM police detective, said he spoke with Dr. Laurence McMahon, who worked with Anderson and accepted his letter of resignation when Anderson decided to retire from the East Ann Arbor Health Care Facility, where he had a private practice that had been acquired by UM in 1993. 

McMahon discussed with West a complaint dating to the 1990s about an alleged incident at the health care facility.

According to the complaint, a patient went to see Anderson about a suspected tumor on his pituitary gland, which is located in the brain but regulates hormones in the testicles. During the exam, the patient was asked to lie naked on the examination table, and "his penis was grabbed like a gear shifter on a car."

According to a Jan. 3, 2019, police report, West told a physician who worked with Anderson at East Ann Arbor, Dr. Yeong Kwok, about the “gear shifter” allegation and Kwok said that “there would have been no reason to grab" his genitals besides to move them out of the way to examine a patient’s testicles.

McMahon said it would've been against protocol for a patient to be lying naked on a table, saying wearing a hospital gown was common practice.

McMahon said if the doctor needed to exam the chest, they'd ask for the gown to be pulled down, and if the doctor needed to examine the testicles, the patient would be asked to pull the gown up "slightly."

McMahon said university policy called for a chaperone in the room if a male was examining a female, or vice versa, but not if a doctor was examining a patient of the same sex. That policy has since changed.

McMahon said he "did not think" he received a complaint against Anderson.

Anderson's alleged abuse also was reported to a state agency around the same time, according to a UM police report.

The report, dated Oct. 16, 2018, said UM Detective Mike Mathews contacted Pamela Bacon at the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs to ask if the agency had received any complaints about Anderson.

The office had, Bacon told the detective: a complaint of sexual misconduct had been filed against the sports doctor on May 13, 1994, and closed March 16, 1995. Bacon gave Mathews the name, address and phone number of the reporting person.

According to the report, Mathews spoke with the reporting person, who told him, "I am glad someone finally called to look into this."

He told the detective he had gone to the UM health facility in the 1970s for a routine exam and that Anderson "fondled my genitals" to ejaculation.

Unwelcome massage

Also in the police records are details from a man who reported an assault to UM police that occurred in 2002. It’s not clear when he reported the incident, but the report indicates it was “earlier in this investigation.” He was interviewed in December 2018.

The man said he first saw Anderson when he suffered from headaches and got a CAT scan. Anderson told him he had a pituitary microadenoma on his brain. During a follow up appointment in 2002, the doctor had him lie naked on a table and massaged his genitals both hands. 

“He said that he thought it was totally inappropriate and remembers the way that Dr. Anderson’s breathing patterns changed" during the massage, the report reads. 

The man told police that he didn’t remember anything else about the appointment, other than leaving and walking to his car. He said he was thinking about the incident and that “it scared him that he could not remember what happened.” He told police he recently got his medical records, which indicated that Anderson had also checked his rectum and prostate. 

“The victim said that this was something that he did not know (or remember) occurring and did not understand why he would have had his prostrate checked,” the report reads. 

The man got blood work taken after the exam, and it showed the microadenoma was not secreting hormones. A physician friend told him that it was unusual to have the physical exam before that blood work was done, the police report reads. 

Anderson practiced endocrinology, and athletes would go to him with concerns about sexually transmitted diseases.

Respected by many

Anderson did receive compliments and respect for his work from some colleagues interviewed by detectives.

Paul Schmidt, an athletic trainer who worked under Anderson, called him a "very incredible doctor" and a "personal friend," who had a "good bedside manner" when working with patients.

Russell Miller, an athletic trainer who worked with Anderson at UM, called him an "unbelievable team doctor" and said the investigation into Anderson "shatters him."

Miller said Larry Nassar was a former student trainer of his and that he was "shocked" to hear about Nassar's history of sexually abusing young female athletes at Michigan State University.

But Miller did said that athletes would joke about going to see Anderson, saying things such as, "he isn't going to be using two fingers, is he?"

UM dedicated a President's Report to Anderson during the 1979-80 academic year, crediting him with 11 years of "leadership" as director of the University Health Service.

"His many contributions to health care are acknowledged at all levels of the university community," read the President's Report's first page.

Staff writers Beth LeBlanc, Christine MacDonald and Tony Paul contributed.