HONOLULU — Twenty-six former students alleged in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that they were repeatedly sexually abused by a now-deceased psychiatrist at a private school for Native Hawaiians.
The plaintiffs are suing Kamehameha Schools and the estate of psychiatrist Robert Browne, who they say molested them during therapy sessions between 1958 and 1985. Kamehameha Schools required each student to undergo therapy, took them to Browne's office and paid for the services, according to the lawsuit.
Kamehameha Schools has known about the allegations for the last 25 years but failed to respond or investigate them, the lawsuit said.
"Kamehameha School has to take responsibility on this one," Honolulu attorney Michael Green said at a news conference Tuesday. "They're not going to run from this case."
Green said he thinks there are many other students who were abused by Browne that haven't come forward.
Kamehameha Schools was established in 1883 by the will of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop. Kamehameha Schools gives admission preference to students of Native Hawaiian ancestry and enrolls nearly 7,000 at three campuses statewide.
The lawsuit also names as a defendant St. Francis Medical Center, where Browne served as director of psychiatry until he lost his credentials. He then continued practicing at Kuakini Medical Center, now known as Kuakini Health System, which is another defendant.
Browne died in 1991.
Kennith Cockett, vice president of communications at Kamehameha Schools, said the school is "troubled and saddened" by the allegations.
"The safety and welfare of our students is Kamehameha's highest priority," Cockett said. "We are working to resolve this matter in the best interests of everyone involved."
Kuakini Health System respond didn't immediately comment. Honolulu attorney Richard Gronna, who represents the estate of Robert Browne, and St. Francis Healthcare System refused to comment on the case.
Twenty-four of the 26 former students in the lawsuit are graduates of Kamehameha Schools. The other two were from other schools that were referred to Browne.
All of the plaintiffs were boys younger than 16 when they were abused, according to the lawsuit.
The suit alleges that Browne told the students his so-called therapy sessions, which included masturbation and oral sex, were a required part of therapy to ensure their bodies were functioning properly. The abuse took place in Browne's office and home, as well as the residential apartment of the principal, the suit said.
The lawsuit claims that if students refused to attend Browne's therapy sessions, they would be threatened, sometimes even with expulsion.
Blake Conant, a plaintiff, said his younger brother, Christopher, was abused by Browne from 1968 to 1969.
Browne prescribed Canton valium, according to the lawsuit. Christopher Conant struggled with drugs and alcohol for the rest of his life until he died of an overdose in 2011, his older brother said.
"How could this have happened?" said Blake Conant, who is representing Christopher. "My mom and dad entrusted Kamehameha to watch over us."
The lawsuit is possible now because Hawaii is among the states that recently extended the statute of limitations for adults who suffered sexual abuse as children. Hawaii's extension on the statute of limitations expires in April.
Some of the plaintiffs filed a similar suit in 2014 but needed to go before the state Medical Inquiry Conciliation Panel before the case could move forward.
The lawsuit comes a month after abuse allegations surfaced at a prestigious Rhode Island boarding school against an athletic trainer and other school employees in the 1970s and 80s.
Lawyers for the victims say they've identified at least 40 former students who were molested or raped. Rhode Island state police are also investigating.
The $56,000-a-year Middletown school has educated many famous names including Prescott Bush, a senator and the father and grandfather of the former presidents Bush.