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Bedside Matter

Editor's Note: The names of the women who filed police reports against Dr. Brian Finkel have been changed to protect their privacy. Carol awoke in her Phoenix home on the morning of March 1, 2000, dreading the ordeal ahead. "I'm a grown adult," she says, "and I had made an...
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Editor's Note: The names of the women who filed police reports against Dr. Brian Finkel have been changed to protect their privacy.

Carol awoke in her Phoenix home on the morning of March 1, 2000, dreading the ordeal ahead.

"I'm a grown adult," she says, "and I had made an informed, big-adult decision with my boyfriend. But it wasn't going to be easy."

The single mother, who's in her mid-30s, had decided to have an abortion. She made an appointment with the Metro Phoenix Women's Clinic, owned and operated by Dr. Brian Finkel. One of the nation's most visible abortion doctors, the outspoken Finkel long has been a lightning rod in the bitter debate over a woman's right to choose.

But Carol says she wasn't concerned about the philosophical pros and cons of abortion. She just wanted to have the procedure done safely, so she could get back to work as an x-ray technician at a local hospital.

Carol's boyfriend came with her to the clinic, where she signed in under her maiden name (she's divorced) to protect her privacy. Her boyfriend stayed in the waiting area when she stepped into the clinic's inner sanctum.

It was in the latter, Carol says, where Brian Finkel sexually abused her, both before and after performing the abortion.

She says Finkel repeatedly rubbed her clitoris during a pre-operation pelvic exam, after alerting her that he might touch it. Carol also claims the doctor instructed her to keep her breasts bared during the abortion, which she says she doesn't remember because of an injection Finkel gave her.

Carol says she awoke after the abortion to find Finkel fondling her breasts in a manner that, to her, was sexual, not medical.

She says a female medical assistant was in the room when Finkel allegedly touched her clitoris, but that the doctor was alone with her when he fondled her breasts.

Carol says she immediately told her boyfriend what had happened, then called Phoenix police from Finkel's parking lot. Phoenix sex-crimes detective Arthur Haduch met with her later that day, then spent the next few months investigating the case.

"[Finkel had] both hands on either breast, cupping them, fondling them and rubbing/massaging them in a circular motion," Haduch wrote in a report that summarized the allegations.

The investigation included a May 12, 2000, interview with Finkel. According to Haduch's report, "I told Finkel of . . . the reported manipulation of the clitoris. Finkel states that is not happening . . . I tell Finkel that a woman would know when her clitoris is touched, and what is proper and what is not."

The doctor steadfastly denied wrongdoing, as he did in a recent interview with New Times.

"I don't like my integrity being challenged," Finkel told the newspaper September 4. "I've gone out of my way to be hyper-vigilant, to protect myself from specious allegations such as this one and others."

The "others" include five women who have made similar allegations of sexual misconduct against the doctor to police, dating back to 1991. One of the women -- a 24-year-old Phoenix resident we'll call Julie -- told police in early 2000 that Finkel had rubbed her clitoris, then licked her genitals briefly during a pre-abortion examination.

Though none of the previous complaints against the doctor had resulted in prosecution, Detective Haduch concluded in a June 2000 report that, "Based on the information, Dr. Finkel has established a history of molesting his patients during his abortion procedures."

The detective recommended that the Maricopa County Attorney's Office prosecute Brian Finkel on charges of sexual assault and sexual abuse. That office assigned its own investigator, Mark Stribling, to look into the case.

But Stribling, a retired Phoenix homicide cop, was swamped last year working on another case involving an abortion doctor, John Biskind. Biskind was convicted in February of manslaughter in the 1998 death of a Phoenix woman after her late-term abortion at the now-defunct A-Z Women's Center.

Stribling investigated the Finkel case when he could, and conducted his own interviews with Carol and other alleged victims. Carol says Stribling told her months ago that he'd give his full attention to Brian Finkel after Biskind's sentencing -- which was in May.

Still, prosecutors haven't sought a grand jury indictment against the doctor.

"We are actively following up on a submittal from Phoenix police [Detective Haduch] concerning allegations regarding Dr. Finkel," Stribling says. "That's all we're going to say publicly."

Finkel tells New Times he's stunned that authorities still are investigating him. He blames disgruntled ex-employees, the anti-abortion movement, and confused patients for what he says is a grossly unjust situation. The doctor points out that his record is clean, despite complaints and lawsuits that ex-patients have filed against him at the Arizona Board of Osteopathic Examiners, and in Maricopa County Superior Court.

Finkel says he never has done anything improper, during his treatment of Carol or any other patient.

"How can anyone believe her when she lied on her application about what her real name is?" the doctor says of Carol. "There is a pattern of criminal misconduct that I've seen in some of these [police] reports, not on my part, but on the patients' parts. . . . I find myself in a no-win situation. I'm never even alone with my patients -- never."

Finkel says some women just don't understand what a pelvic exam is: "They misconstrue professional conduct for professional misconduct. . . . Physicians that abuse their patients in this state go to prison. I'm not going to go to prison, because I'm not doing anything wrong."

I am a busy gynecologist, and would never do a breast exam on any patient, regardless of age, without a female attendant present to protect her dignity and my integrity

--Dr. Finkel, in a February 1999 letter to Ann Landers, about unchaperoned x-ray technicians who perform breast exams

One-on-one allegations of sexual misconduct that lack physical evidence are notoriously difficult for prosecutors to prove in court. The potential case against Brian Finkel, however, has details that transcend the he-said, she-said circumstances that often hamper authorities.

Perhaps most important is that four of Finkel's ex-employees have told authorities that they often saw the doctor touch his patients' clitorises during pelvic examinations. The four said he also would regularly fondle the breasts of patients in a non-medical manner. Each of those employees have said that, contrary to Finkel's claims, he often found ways to be alone -- sometimes for five or six minutes -- with many of his prettier patients.

As for Carol, the fact that she phoned police immediately is a plus for prosecutors. It's also important that she's not aligned with Finkel's longtime enemies -- right-to-lifers who would love to see him crumble. "I really agree with a woman's right to choose if she's prepared to have a child or not," she says. "I think it's up to the woman herself."

Carol hasn't sued the doctor, nor has she hired an attorney. Instead, after Finkel allegedly abused her, she sought therapy. She says she didn't file a complaint with the state osteopathic board against Finkel because she didn't think of it. Carol also claims she didn't know that five other women had filed sexual misconduct allegations against Finkel with Phoenix police until she recently read the report on her own case for the first time.

It turns out that those other reports contain allegations that are remarkably similar to Carol's -- allegations that Finkel manipulated their clitorises in a manner they claim was sexual.

The earliest complaint was filed in 1991. "Terry" told police and, more recently, New Times, that Finkel had rubbed her clitoris during a gynecological examination. Now 37, the Phoenix woman says she went to Finkel's clinic because it was open on a Saturday, when she wasn't working.

"I had an infection that needed to be looked at," Terry says. "I went in, and his assistant was at the sink washing dishes or something for a long, long time. That was when this doctor put his hand down there, and just started rubbing my clitoris. That's never happened to me during an exam, before or since. I was shocked. I looked directly at him, and I was about to say something, when he turned away. It was not a normal visit."

Terry says she later told her mother what had happened. The next morning, she called Phoenix police: "My thinking was, what does he do to those young girls I saw at his office, girls who are already flipped out because they're getting an abortion, and then they have to deal with that yahoo?"

Police reports confirm that a Phoenix detective interviewed Terry at the time. She says the investigator told her a criminal case against Finkel would be difficult because "it was my word against his and that the woman [medical assistant] in the room hadn't seen anything, or hadn't cared to see anything."

Terry says she also filed a complaint with the state osteopathic board. "About eight months goes by, and I finally get a letter. They say they've spoken to Dr. Finkel, and that's it. End of story."

Terry says she no longer has that letter. Osteopathic board executive director Ann Marie Berger says that, under Arizona law, she can't even confirm the existence of a dismissed complaint that's more than three years old, nor a "letter of concern" from the board to a doctor that's more than five years old.

Phoenix police files also include allegations of sexual misconduct against Finkel in 1992, two in 1995, and the one from Julie in 2000, shortly before Carol filed her complaint.

From a summary of the November 1992 report: "[Finkel] flicked victim's clitoris several times [and] pinched breast nipples."

From a summary of a January 1995 report: "[Finkel] stimulated clitoris for approximately three seconds. Squeezed and pulled on breast nipples."

From a summary of an October 1995 report filed by a 26-year-old Phoenix woman: "[Finkel] rubbed clitoris up and down several times."

Then, on January 25, 2000, Phoenix police traced a 911 hang-up call to a residence inside city limits. According to a police report, two officers were met at the home by a distraught 24-year-old woman.

"Julie" told them that, accompanied by a girlfriend earlier that day, she had gone to Finkel's clinic for an abortion. Finkel had performed a previous abortion on Julie a few years earlier, without incident.

This time, however, she alleged something far different.

"[Julie] said that he began to rub KY jelly on her vagina," the police report said, "but while doing this, he rubbed her clitoris three or four times. . . ."

Around this time, Finkel had given Julie a pain-killing injection that put her in a kind of "twilight sleep," but she told the police she never was completely unconscious. She recalled that a medical assistant had been present during the clitoral rubbing.

Julie said she closed her eyes, but did hear the operating-room door open and close a few times in the next few minutes.

"She said that she then felt Finkel 'lick her down there,' and said it lasted for approximately three to five seconds," according to the report.

The officers filed their report with the sex-crimes unit, but Detective James Newhouse didn't re-interview Julie until March 22, three weeks after Carol had contacted Phoenix police about her problems with Finkel.

In her second interview, Julie conceded that she hadn't said anything to Finkel during the alleged assault. She described Finkel's "hot breath" on her clitoris, and said that when she opened her eyes, he was sitting on the end of the operating table looking at her.

"She knows what a tongue feels like on her clitoris," Newhouse wrote in his report, adding that Julie was "100 percent sure" that a tongue had touched her clitoris.

But Newhouse never confronted Finkel with Julie's allegations. Nor did he submit the case to county prosecutors for review, as Detective Haduch did after investigating Carol's allegations last year.

Instead, Newhouse's mini-investigation ended with his written notation, "There are other reports involving Dr. Finkel that are also being investigated."

Police won't discuss their investigations into Finkel. Says Haduch, "I don't feel comfortable talking about the Finkel case at this time. We submitted [the allegations involving Carol] to the County Attorney, and it's an open investigation there, so it's up to them what happens next."

Still, Haduch's report includes potentially powerful testimony from a number of Finkel's former employees who generally corroborate the patients' complaints. In separate interviews, four ex-medical assistants who'd worked closely with Finkel told the detective they'd seen the doctor routinely perform what was known at the clinic as the "clit flick" -- improper touching of the clitoris during preoperative exams.

One of the ex-assistants, Crystal Sykes, also told Phoenix police last year that Finkel often "fondled the patient's breasts to wake them from [a] twilight sleep . . . and every one of Finkel's medical assistants knew this."

"Crystal stated mostly it was the cute patients," according to a police report. Sykes "stated she couldn't say if Finkel would manipulate the clitoris of every patient. Crystal said in some of the more attractive patients, Finkel would stay in the room and she would leave. Crystal stated she has re-entered the room and seen Finkel rubbing the patient's inner thighs while the patient was in the stirrups.

"I spoke with Crystal about the pelvic exam and the allegations about Finkel manipulating the clitoris," the report says. "Crystal stated how she felt uncomfortable about this part of the exam. Crystal said when the patient was attractive, Finkel would find reasons to stay in the room alone with the patients."

Sykes worked for Finkel for about 18 months in the late 1990s. She told police she'd be willing to testify against Finkel.

Finkel says Sykes is lying, and has a vendetta against him because he fired her.

In August 2000, Haduch found Valley resident Karen Corbett, who had worked for Finkel for 10 years. Corbett corroborated Sykes' account, and also said she and other medical assistants had told Finkel that the breast-fondling was inappropriate. Corbett also said she'd informed the doctor's wife, Diana -- who works part time as Finkel's office manager -- about the allegedly inappropriate fondling. However, Diana Finkel tells New Times that, "No one ever has told me that my husband was doing anything inappropriate during any examination. I'm sure I would have addressed it with him immediately."

According to Haduch's police report, Corbett said, "Finkel would particularly fondle the breasts of larger-chested women or women with breast enhancement. I asked Karen if she had ever been out of the room and Finkel was alone with the patient. Karen said this happened numerous times."

"I asked Karen about the term 'clit flick.' Karen saw Finkel perform this flicking. Karen had seen Finkel do this during every pelvic exam. Karen and other medical assistants told Finkel this was inappropriate. Karen reported she would become upset about this flicking and would look away."

The doctor dismisses Corbett's allegations, telling New Times he's "never 'clit-flicked' a patient for improper motive, or improper gratification. I don't want to, I don't need to, and I don't have to. Do I touch their breasts as anything other than as a professional part of their exam? No. I have no reason to, and I am not going to.

"I've gone out of my way to make sure, No. 1, that I'm never alone with a patient. No. 2, when I take a patient to the exam room, I tell her how to prepare for an exam. I leave the room and she undresses by herself. I come back in the room with a medical assistant by my side, or one at my beck and call. I never examine a patient without a female attendant being present. No ifs, ands or buts."

Finkel suggests his accusers may have been manipulated by police as well as political opponents. "I do understand that, sometimes, law enforcement can be rather forceful in intimidating people into making statements that aren't true."

And he goes a step further: "I understand there are people in this community who don't like the fact that I'm an abortion provider. And I understand there are people under the color of authority who would like to make me unavailable for abortions. I've seen it in the past."

Brian Finkel has earned an excellent set of credentials since he first was licensed in Arizona as an osteopath in 1982.

He is board-certified as an obstetrician-gynecologist, and is a fellow with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and with the International College of Surgeons. A member of the United States Air Force Reserves, Finkel served as a flight surgeon during the Desert Storm operation in 1990.

But national and local anti-abortionists long have targeted the 51-year-old Finkel as their archenemy, more than any other area abortion doctor. His name and address is listed on Internet sites controlled by radical anti-abortionists whose ilk have murdered other abortion practitioners.

To protect himself, the doctor wears a loaded handgun on his hip when he's working.

"When you're a nationally prominent abortion provider such as myself," Finkel says, "you have to be more vigilant than others. When you're a lightning rod for public comment, you have to be more vigilant."

Still, he continues to embrace the limelight, and takes every opportunity to tell the world how poorly he regards most anti-abortionists. Finkel gets a ton of business, about 1,600 abortions last year, he says, or about 20 percent of all abortions performed in the state of Arizona. The doctor charges between $300 and $500 for an abortion.

"Thousands and thousands of abortions, and I get six women saying I'm pawing at them, huh?" he says. "Give me a break."

In the early and mid-1990s, right-to-lifers led by Phoenix attorney John Jakubczyk funded about a half-dozen medical malpractice lawsuits on behalf of Finkel abortion patients. Superior Court records indicate that the doctor prevailed in each suit.

Finkel also was cleared of wrongdoing in the sole complaint now available for public scrutiny at the osteopathic board.

Filed by a Phoenix woman in August 1998, that complaint claimed Finkel had performed an abortion using unsanitary surgical equipment. The board considered the complaint at a hearing, during which Finkel alleged a "persistent pattern of misconduct on the behalf of [board] staff in order to do immediate and permanent damage to me to earn a living." The board then voted to dismiss that complaint.

Finkel tells New Times that the state board has dismissed 28 of the other 29 complaints filed against him.

The remaining one was a 1997 "letter of concern" from the board to the doctor about wearing a gun while performing abortions.

Certainly, patients do make false allegations of sexual abuse against their doctors. But abuse does happen, and perhaps with greater frequency than many might suspect.

Dr. Thomas Gutheil, a Harvard Medical School psychiatry professor, recently wrote, "Although most of us would like to believe this is relatively rare in the medical practice . . . there is a tendency to underreport this kind of conduct. Its victims often fall into self-blaming and anger at themselves for not reacting quickly and leaving the scene."

Ann Marie Berger notes that 55 Arizona osteopaths list OB-GYN as a specialty. She says that no one has filed allegations of sexual misconduct against an OB-GYN since she was hired in 1995.

In 1999, a survey conducted by the American Medical Association's Council on Ethics and Judicial Affairs revealed that, of 1,891 doctors who responded, a remarkable nine percent admitted to sexual contact with one or more patients.

Though the survey didn't define "sexual contact," Phoenix sex-crimes detectives say that, in their experience, allegations of clitoral rubbing and breast fondling by doctors are rare.

One reason, says Dr. Joseph Buxer, medical director of the Women's Health Service at Good Samaritan Hospital, is that doctors always try to ensure they're not alone with patients during intimate examinations.

"A chaperone should always be present in such situations," says Buxer, who was speaking generally. "There are too many opportunities for a he-said, she-said situation to develop, whatever the motivation. You need someone to say that you weren't fooling around, that you were doing your normal job in a normal, appropriate way."

Adds Dr. Thomas Cole, dean of the Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine: "We teach that, for your own safety as well as for the safety and comfort of your patients, have someone with you when you're performing an intimate examination or awakening someone after a procedure. How can you defend yourself otherwise?"

Finkel says he always tells his patients that he may inadvertently touch their clitorises, but only briefly and not for sexual purposes. But four OB-GYN doctors tell New Times that incidental contact with the clitoris during pelvic examinations is rare, and that forewarning patients about possible touching is unnecessary.

Detective Haduch broached the subject during his investigation with Kim Yedowitz, a supervising nurse at Scottsdale Healthcare/Osborn. His report says Yedowitz told him there is no medical reason to manipulate a clitoris during a pelvic exam.

Yedowitz told Haduch a doctor may have incidental contact with a patient's clitoris, but the patient wouldn't report it as rubbing, flicking or repeated touching. The nurse also said there's no reason for a doctor to perform a second breast examination after an abortion.

In late April 2000, Haduch informed Brian Finkel by phone about the allegations of "inappropriate touching" of patients. His report says the doctor denied wrongdoing. Finkel referred Haduch to attorney Rosann Johnson (who was present during Finkel's recent interview with New Times.)

Haduch's report says he gave Johnson the names of Finkel's most recent alleged victims, as well as some details of the allegations. On May 10, 2000, Haduch and another detective met with Finkel and attorney Johnson at the doctor's clinic.

Haduch first told Finkel he wasn't under arrest, and that he didn't intend to arrest Finkel even after the interview. The doctor soon explained to Haduch that he has a nurse present in the operating room during every procedure.

Finkel said he examines his patients' breasts to see if the woman is lactating, and to determine if she has had cosmetic surgery. (According to Finkel, abortion may be more discomforting for women with breast implants.)

The detective told the doctor that patients were claiming he'd rubbed their clitorises -- intentionally, in their views -- during pelvic exams. Finkel denied it.

From Haduch's report: "Finkel reports telling the patient that he might be touching their clitoris, so that the patient doesn't think he is taking advantage of them."

For unknown reasons, the detective apparently didn't mention Julie, the woman who had made the oral sex allegations against Finkel only a few months earlier.

Though the doctor had denied guilt, Haduch's police report concluded, "Finkel sexually assaulted the victims by intentionally manipulating the clitoris . . . without a medical reason, and aroused the victim from her sleep by fondling her breasts. Witnesses stated this was a routine practice for Finkel. No accepted medical procedure could be found for Finkel's actions."

Carol, who filed the latest police report against the doctor, says she hopes the County Attorney's Office seeks a grand jury indictment against Finkel.

"I'm not a shrinking-violet little girl, but I was vulnerable that day," she says, "and he took advantage of a situation to get his cheap little thrill."

Brian Finkel hired veteran Phoenix criminal-defense attorney Clark Derrick after his recent interview with New Times. But he says he plans to continue to speak up for himself.

"This is my story, and I'm sticking to it," Finkel says. "I intend to remain just as vigilant in the future as I have been in the past . . . and to make myself available to the people of Arizona who so desperately want me, and seek me out."

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