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Trial opens for former Virginia hospital medical director accused of sexual abuse of ex-patients

NEW KENT, Va. — The former longtime medical director of a Virginia hospital that serves vulnerable children used physical examinations as a “ruse” to sexually abuse two teenage patients, a prosecutor said Monday, while the physician’s attorney “adamantly” denied any inappropriate conduct.

The trial of Daniel N. Davidow of Richmond, who for decades served as the medical director of the Cumberland Hospital for Children and Adolescents, opened Monday morning in New Kent County, where a judge will weigh the charges against him.

Davidow, along with the hospital and its parent company, faces a separate civil proceeding in which dozens of former patients have accused him of inappropriate touching, allegations he also has denied. He was criminally charged in December 2022 with four felony counts in connection with allegations made by two of those former patients.

The young women, who were teenagers when they were admitted to Cumberland, both testified Monday, saying Davidow groped their breasts and genitals during a physical examination as part of the admissions process.

“I teared up. I was in shock,” one woman told the court.

One woman said the abuse continued in subsequent exams, and the other said she had addition encounters in which Davidow touched her inappropriately or made her uncomfortable.

T. Scott Renick, the top prosecutor in New Kent County east of Richmond, where the hospital is located, said in his opening statement that the girls were in extremely vulnerable conditions, living without their parents or other caregivers at the residential facility that specializes in complex cases and sometimes takes patients from other states under court order.

“The truth is that the so-called exams were a ruse” to touch the two girls inappropriately, Renick said, adding that as the medical director for the facility, Davidow “had complete control over them.”

Defense attorney Craig Cooley said Davidow “adamantly” denies the allegations. He said other clinicians who had been in the room with Davidow during exams as a chaperone will testify that they never saw any inappropriate touching of either former patient, and he described Davidow as a dedicated physician committed to helping even the most difficult or medically complex children.

Cooley also raised concerns about the former patients’ motivations, noting that they are each seeking many millions of dollars in the pending civil matter.

“They have an interest in the outcome of this case,” he said.

One of the former patients told Cooley during a pointed exchange that she was unfamiliar with the legal system and never set out to win compensation. She engaged with the attorneys representing her in the civil case because she thought they could help her “by getting justice,” she testified.

The Associated Press is not naming either woman because it generally does not identify those who say they have been sexually assaulted.

Near the end of Monday’s hearing, after the prosecution rested its case, Cooley — a well-known Virginia defense attorney — made an unsuccessful motion to strike the charges, raising concerns about the women’s credibility and discrepancies between various accounts they had given about the alleged misconduct.

“We have these accusations, but they change,” he said.

Renick responded that Cooley was trying to “get us all off in the woods” by noting what he characterized as minor differences in accounts they’d given. Inconsistencies or additions to the testimonies of victims are normal, he said.

“When kids come forward and they disclose in these situations it’s not always all at once,” he said.

Davidow, 71, pleaded not guilty to two counts of a felony indecent liberties charge and two counts of object sexual penetration, also a felony.

Cumberland, located about a half-hour’s drive, east of Richmond, treats children and young adults with complex medical needs, including chronic illnesses, brain injuries and neurobehavioral disorders. Cooley described it as unique in the country for the type of cases it takes on, accepting patient referrals from around the world, he said.

Cooley, who listed nearly three dozen witnesses who may be called, was expected to begin presenting his defense Tuesday.

He declined to comment after Monday’s hearing, as did attorneys representing the former patients in the civil case.

Virginia State Police began investigating staff at the hospital in October 2017, a spokeswoman has said, and Davidow is at least the third former Cumberland staffer to be charged with a crime in connection with a patient.

One, a psychotherapist, was charged with sexually abusing a patient and died by suicide the same day he was due in court for a plea hearing. The other, a behavioral technician, was sentenced to a year in prison after pleading no contest to an allegation that she intentionally burned a disabled child with scalding water.

Five plaintiffs in the civil case, which has survived an attempt by the defendants to have it dismissed and another attempt to have its claims pared back under the state’s medical malpractice law, are set for trial in September.

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