Ousted Texas state hospital psychiatrist Charles Fisher indicted on multiple child sex crimes

June 14, 2012

Dr. Charles Fischer, a long-serving psychiatrist at the Austin State Hospital fired last year amid allegations that he abused boys in his care, has been indicted by a Travis County grand jury on multiple child sex crime charges.

According to an 11-page indictment filed with Travis County courts Thursday, Fischer is accused of sexually abusing five boys in his care. He now has been charged with two counts of sexual assault, nine counts of sexual assault of a child, seven counts of indecency with a child by contact and five counts of indecency with a child by exposure, according to the document.

Although Fischer, 59, has been accused of abuse in the past, this marks the first time he has been criminally charged.

Fischer's attorney, Chris Gunter, said Thursday his client is not guilty and looks forward to his day in court.

"The charges are not true," Gunter said. "He's had an excellent reputation throughout his career with the state, and today is the first day anyone has actually told us what the charges are."

The indictments say that in multiple instances between 2001 and 2005, Fischer engaged in inappropriate touching and oral sex with five boys who were his patients, at least four of whom were younger than 17 at the time. The indictments accuse Fischer of "exploiting the (victims') emotional dependency" on him. He was investigated by the Austin Police Department, the Texas Rangers and other agencies, according to the district attorney office.

Fischer was not in custody Thursday afternoon, according to jail records.

Carrie Williams, a spokeswoman for the Department of State Health Services — the operators of the Austin State Hospital — said the agency is cooperating with the investigation.

"We'll continue to help with the investigation and prosecution in any way," she said. "We hope for closure and peace for our patients and their families."

The state hospital is a residential facility for people with mental illness, and the child and adolescent unit where Fischer worked houses youths up to age 18. He worked there about 20 years.

Fischer was fired in November after the state Department of Family and Protective Services accused him of sexually abusing at least one child in his care. Although Thursday's indictment lists five victims, there are indications that Fischer has been accused of abuse at least nine times in the past two decades.

In November, the Texas Medical Board suspended Fischer's medical license. The suspension term is indefinite until further action. Fischer may appeal but has not done so, board spokeswoman Leigh Hopper said.

During the hearing in which that decision was made, board officials said Fischer had been accused of sexual abuse by at least nine youths at three facilities.

Seven patients between the ages of 13 and 17 made abuse allegations against Fischer between 2001 and 2006, according to medical board documents. An eighth accusation came from a 16-year-old patient who said he was abused in 1992 at the Waco Center for Youth, a state-run psychiatric facility for children up to 18.

A ninth patient accused the psychiatrist of abuse when Fischer was working at the Southwest Neuropsychiatric Institute in San Antonio, medical board documents state. Although the order does not identify a year, Fischer worked at the center from 1982 to 1984 as a child psychiatry resident, according to licensing documents filed with the medical board.

When the American-Statesman looked into Fischer's background last year after his firing, state officials acknowledged that over the years they had received several reports Fischer had sexually abused children. But officials said all allegations were thoroughly investigated and dismissed.

District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg said at the time that a 2002 grand jury inquiry focused on allegations against Fischer, but the panel declined to indict him.

The case became controversial after it was revealed that while Fischer was being investigated, he continued to work in the same hospital unit where the abuse is said to have taken place. The stir prompted the Department of State Health Services to revise its policies; now, staffers accused of sexual abuse must be transferred or put on emergency leave while they are being investigated.

In February, the Texas attorney general's office ruled that the Department of State Health Services must turn over to the Statesman investigation documents the Texas Medical Board mailed to the Austin State Hospital in December 1990, shortly after Fischer was hired.

State Health Services and the medical board filed a lawsuit in March against the attorney general to prevent the release of those documents.

Source: Kelly West, "Fired Austin psychiatrist indicted on child sex charges," American Statesman, June 14, 2012.


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