The former chief pediatrician for Santa Clara County’s foster care system – a one-time foster and adoptive parent who has been accused of sexual abuse by more than a dozen children and teens since 2001 – is now facing his first lawsuit.
The civil suit filed March 27 in Santa Cruz County Superior Court against Dr. Patrick Clyne, 58, alleges the physician commited “multiple acts of ongoing child sexual abuse” against a boy named Kyle beginning when he was 8 years old. Kyle, who is not fully named due to his allegations of sexual assault, claims unspecified damages as a result of abuse in Clyne’s South Bay home that he long ago reported to authorities.
The suit is being brought after a recent legal reform upended statute-of-limitation issues that have protected Clyne from many of his accusers. It is a significant turn in a two-decade legal saga that has seen multiple failed criminal investigations of Clyne.
“The one thing I know about truth is it always comes to the surface. It’s just a matter of time,” East Bay resident Tonya Batorski said Friday morning, after being informed of the lawsuit. Batorski’s son Max lived with Clyne and Kyle as a young foster child, later telling police he too had been abused.
Max was shot and killed at age 17, after struggling with school and the law. “We’ve waited an awful long time for justice,” his mother said.
Now 34, Kyle was removed by social workers from his mother and placed with Clyne, a single foster father, when he was in fourth grade. At the time, Clyne worked at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, treating abused and neglected children in the local county shelter and taking a succession of young boys into his home.
Clyne and his Sacramento attorney, Robert Zimmerman, who specializes in medical malpractice, did not respond to recent requests for comment on the pending suit.
From 1995 to 1998, Kyle lived with Clyne, who eventually adopted him. But as a young teen, Kyle fled back to his mother, telling her and a juvenile probation officer that Clyne had repeatedly sexually abused him at the doctor’s home.
Kyle and Max testified about the abuse to a criminal grand jury in 2002, but in an exceedingly rare legal twist, Santa Clara County grand jurors did not return an indictment, despite recommendations by local police that charges be filed.
Kyle’s civil suit filed in March comes 18 years after the former foster youth first testified. Its progress has been slowed due to court shutdowns amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The civil filing is the latest in decades of accusations against Clyne, following two criminal investigations by the San Jose Police Department and Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department, in 2001 and 2011, and a third joint investigation last year by the Watsonville Police Department and the Medical Board of California. Over the years, Child Protective Services in Santa Clara County has received numerous calls reporting allegations of sexual abuse by Clyne from social workers, parents, guardians, therapists, a juvenile probation officer and staff at two residential group homes, court records show.
Clyne denied all those reports, noting that none of the investigations resulted in an arrest, and the Medical Board has never curbed his practice or suspended his license.
In repeated interviews since 2011, Clyne has said that the allegations made against him in 2001 by the children he fostered were lies. The multiple patients who have reported him, he has said, must have misinterpreted his examinations because of their distrust of adults, and histories of abuse.
In recent years, Clyne has been working in the small immigrant community of Freedom, south of Santa Cruz. His pediatric office, located in a nondescript medical plaza on Green Valley Road, serves mostly Spanish-speaking families who receive public health benefits.
But last year, a new allegation arose from that clinic, a case cited in the March lawsuit. “Dr. Clyne was accused by a child patient of sexually inappropriate conduct once again,” the court filing states.
The case was being investigated last year by local police, but it did not result in arrest, and Clyne continued to practice. He said in an interview last year that he was unaware of the allegation.
In many ways, Clyne is a physician and foster parent not to be forgotten. As a medical student, he fell off a cliff on the Appalachian Trail and severed his spinal cord. After eight months in rehabilitation, he completed his residency and a Stanford University fellowship, and now treats patients from a wheelchair.
Clyne has been praised by colleagues and foster parents for his commitment to vulnerable children and willingness to treat clients at all hours. Before the allegations against him became public, he was honored in 2007 by the Legal Advocates for Children and Youth, the firm representing children in Santa Clara County foster care.
Kyle first told his story to The Mercury News in 2013, two years after the newspaper began exposing the accusations against Clyne. In a quiet voice, with his head hung low over a diner breakfast, Kyle described years of wrestling with his internal rage and pain that had long tormented him, requiring years of therapy to overcome.
There was one vague promise of relief. He wanted Clyne kept away from children. But Kyle said he had never been able to achieve that aim, a fact that consumed him.
“I can’t believe the justice system is like this, that they let this go on,” Kyle said at the time. “If I could prevent him from hurting one more kid, that’s my mission accomplished.”
Kyle has worked as a construction foreman and has his own small son now, who he said he is desperate to protect.
“I just want him to stop hurting children — that’s it,” Kyle told this reporter again last year, well before he knew a civil lawsuit was even an option.
Because of Kyle’s age, he would have been unable to file an abuse claim until this year – when California broadened its statute of limitations for sexual assault cases.
Under California law, adults with years-old childhood sexual abuse claims were unable to file in civil courts due to the statute of limitations. But that changed last year, when the state broadened the timeline, following the prosecution of University of Southern California campus gynecologist George Tyndall, who was found to have abused hundreds of former patients.
Kyle’s case was filed by Santa Cruz personal injury attorney Dana Scruggs, who has a long history of representing survivors of child sexual abuse.
On at least 10 occasions, the suit filed by Scruggs alleges, Clyne “sexually fondled” and “orally copulated” the boy in his care. And because Kyle was adopted, the suit also alleges incest.
Similar allegations against Clyne can be found in excruciating detail in reports by the San Jose Police Department, Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department and Child Protective Services, as well as in documents filed in U.S. District Court in an unrelated criminal case that involved Clyne’s testimony as an expert witness.
The lawsuit filed in Santa Cruz County, where Clyne now practices medicine, summarizes some of that history, beginning in 2001. That’s when three of the four foster children placed by social workers in Clyne’s home reported to law enforcement that he had sexually abused them as children.
One of the boys “couldn’t stop crying or throwing up” as he told his mother about the abuse, and “just kept saying, I’m sorry, Mommy, for letting him touch me,” court records show.
“I can’t even hug my mom really long,” another boy said. “It makes me sick just when people touch me.”
That is a reality, Batorski said, that as she mourns for her son Max, will never leave her. “I couldn’t protect him,” she said, “and I have to live with that everyday.”
Between 2009 and 2011, another 10 children between the ages of 8 and 11 years old reported to law enforcement that Clyne sexually abused them during what should have been routine medical examinations. The exams as described by the children were so invasive that other doctors found them “extraordinarily uncommon,” “bizarre” and “suspicious,” criminal investigators reported.
Clyne was put on administrative leave while both sets of allegations were investigated, but in both instances, he returned to work at Valley Medical Center.
That changed in 2011, when the District Attorney’s Office notified defense attorneys that there was “substantial evidence that Dr. Clyne committed multiple crimes of moral turpitude, specifically sexual assaults.” The disclosure had to be made because prosecutors had presented Clyne in court as an expert witness.
Following the revelation, Santa Clara County fired Clyne from his job of 14 years.
Clyne then tried to obtain a medical license in New Mexico. But he withdrew his application after that state’s medical board found he had not disclosed his suspensions and firing. Clyne said the questions on the application were “vague,” and he may have misinterpreted them.
Two years later, in an unrelated action, the California Department of Social Services barred Clyne from ever becoming a foster parent again and prohibited him from working with any children or adults in state-licensed care facilities.
The 2014 state action also barred Clyne from serving on a board of directors, as an officer or executive director of any state-licensed facility. He is also unable to register with “TrustLine,” the state’s database of in-home caregivers, nannies and babysitters who have cleared criminal background checks.
The Medical Board of California has been formally notified of concerns about Clyne since at least 2011, beginning with a letter from Santa Clara County officials. Yet to date, the board – which can suspend a physician’s license after an arrest or if there is an immediate threat to patient safety – has failed to take any action. A spokesman for the medical board declined to comment on the latest developments this week, citing confidentiality of its investigations. But Watsonville police confirmed last year that its investigation of Clyne was a joint effort with the medical board.
The current suit against Clyne gives few details about specific damages being sought. But it says Kyle has suffered from “post-traumatic stress disorder, significant shame and guilt, low self-esteem, lack of self-worth, lack of trust, anxiety, depression, lack of intimacy in close relationships, nightmares, and hyper-vigilance.”
The lawsuit also describes Clyne’s statements to The Mercury News in its Dec. 14, 2013, exposé as “false and defamatory.” In that article, Clyne is quoted saying: “I never have touched any child inappropriately in the office or ever.”
Karen de Sá is the Safety Net Reporting Fellow for The Imprint, and a former investigative reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and The Mercury News. She can be reached at [email protected].
An abbreviated version of this story appeared in The Mercury News.