Kamehameha Schools settles sexual abuse lawsuit for $80 million

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Kamehameha Schools has settled a lawsuit that alleges decades of sexual abuse by a school psychiatrist on dozens of young victims.

At least 34 students claim they were abused by psychiatrist Dr. Robert Browne between 1962 to 1984.

According to the lawsuit, Kamehameha Schools referred, transported, and submitted hundreds of its young male students to Browne for behavioral and/or psychological adjustment, evaluation, treatment, and/or therapy.

The lawsuit also claims the school approved, designated, and/or facilitated Browne as a dorm sponsor, which authorized him to take physical custody of boarding students from their dormitories and keep them in his home in Manoa for weekend sleepovers.

Browne died in 1991, shortly after the first allegations surfaced.

In a settlement agreement announced Friday, the school will pay $80 million to 32 of those victims.

It will also establish an independently run hotline, so that anyone can report abuse or provide information of wrongdoing at any of the school’s campuses or in the organization. An independent person, such as a lawyer or child abuse expert, will review and respond to any hotline complaints, and decide whether to call police or Child Welfare Services, or recommend internal action.

The school will also implement extensive training for faculty to prevent future abuse with an advisory group of experts in the field of childhood sexual abuse.

Lastly, the school agreed to establish a recovery fund for students who were/are victims of abuse, physical or sexual. The money would go toward therapy, medical reimbursements, and programs.

“This settlement will cause Kamehameha Schools to commit substantial resources to this new program to identify, respond to, and report allegations of abuse immediately and to financially assist those students who have been the victims of abuse, even if they did not file a lawsuit,” said Mark Davis, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs.

Alika Bajo was in the eighth grade at Kamehameha Schools when he says he was sexually abused by Browne.

He says he now has closure, but it doesn’t erase what happened. “The money, that’s a big amount,” Bajo said. “Will it take away the pain? No. A’ole. This pain never going leave me.

“A lot of people think we only been hurting these past few years since this lawsuit,” Bajo added. “A’ole. I’ve been hurting my whole adult life.”

Bajo says he’s grateful to the community for their support.

“Especially the alumni for coming forward and backing us up and seeing how horrific this situation was and is for us,” Bajo said. “Kamehameha knows what they did. Kamehameha knows what happened to us, and the biggest thing that I’m thankful for is this safeguard that’s been put in place by Kamehameha for transparency and oversight for the kids the students now and for the students in the future.”

Malia Lum Marques said she was there for her late brother, Anthony T. Lum, who died of congestive heart failure in 2015.

“Most of all, I’m here to support the men who are still here, living this horrific life of demons that they have to deal with every day, and there’s no amount of money that can ever change that,” Marques said. “I have nothing against Kamehameha Schools. They provide a lot of good for children. Unfortunately, they didn’t provide it for my brother.”

Marques also expressed her satisfaction in knowing changes would be made at Kamehameha Schools.

The school never openly acknowledged the claims of sexual abuse had any merit until last December, when CEO Jack Wong issued a public apology.

He said in a statement Friday: “We understand that our responsibility as a school is to do what is pono for our community and to protect those in our care. More than just a settlement for these men, today’s resolution is about our commitment to provide support to their fellow students who could not or did not come forward – and the keiki of future generations – through Ho’opakele, the fund we are establishing for survivors.”

“Transparency had to be the ultimate result,” Davis said. “There cannot be concealment and secrecy was not for sale in this case and once that was revealed we started speaking the same language.

“Kamehameha has always responded to litigation as outsiders attacking the institution,” Davis continued. “What was fundamentally different about this is, these were not outsiders. These were as much Kamehameha as the trustees are Kamehameha. They were not fighting against the institution. They were fighting for the institution. It suddenly dawned on them, and I think they appreciated the fact that it’s not our role to fight our own students who we have harmed, and it’s more important for us to be accountable and stand with them side by side.”

Kamehameha trustee and chairman of the board, Micah A. Kane, assured KHON2 that Kamehameha did what it felt was best for everyone in this case.

“Our intention at the very beginning was to put the survivors at the forefront, and to reassure that the process that we went through acknowledged what occurred some 40 years ago,” Kane said.

The only question that remains is whether Saint Francis Medical Center will shoulder any responsibility. Browne was employed by the hospital when the abuse took place.

“We’re disappointed that we were unable to get Saint Francis Medical Center to step forward voluntarily,” Kane said. “At this time, we’re still working with them in hopes that they should voluntarily step forward. Should they not, then we’ll deal with them in other ways.”

Kamehameha Schools said in a release: “Because SFMC (Saint Francis Medical Center) refused to acknowledge its obligations as Dr. Browne’s employer for 25 years, Kamehameha will pursue all possible remedies against SFMC and its insurers, with the cooperation of the survivors.  That recovery, together with monies contributed by KS’s own insurers, will reduce the total cost of the settlement to KS.”

Sister Davilyn Ah Chick, chair of the St. Francis Healthcare System board of directors, released the following statement in response:

“The health and well-being of the men who were abused have been in our prayers. We were glad to learn from the media that Kamehameha Schools reached a settlement with their former students, so that these men can continue to move forward. We also would like to continue to move forward; however, we are disappointed to learn Kamehameha Schools will now be pursuing a claim against the Sisters of St. Francis, who for 135 years have been serving the people of Hawaii, St. Francis Healthcare System and our healthcare ministries.

“Many in the community count on St. Francis Healthcare System for hospice care, special care in their homes, adult day care and preschool, homeless outreach in Waianae, and other services. The claim may impact the people we serve as well as our strategic plans for our St. Francis Kūpuna Village in Liliha to meet the growing needs of seniors and family caregivers.”

The settlement does not include two plaintiffs who are each represented by separate legal counsel. Kamehameha Schools says those cases are still pending.

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