I-Team: System ensuring medical providers ‘do no harm’ relies heavily on public reporting

GERMANTOWN — After disgraced, former Germantown Dr. Noel Watson was convicted of sexually assaulting three underage victims, and investigators claims his decades-old abuse pattern may have involved nearly one dozen victims, an I-Team investigation revealed the system responsible for ensuring medical providers ‘do no harm’ relies heavily on the public reporting concerns.

Now sentenced to serve 15 years in prison for crimes involving three underage victims between 2005 and 2018, Watson practiced in Germantown for 40 years before his abuse was unmasked. His case became public two years after Gov. Mike DeWine demanded new medical provider sexual misconduct case approaches in the wake of the Ohio State University Dr. Richard Strauss case.

In July, the I-Team first reported dual Watson investigations from the Ohio State Medical Board and Germantown Police Department. GPD’s criminal complaint, and subsequent investigation, was turned over to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office. Eventually Watson’s license was suspended then revoked.

After the I-Team reached out to speak with Watson’s victims, one whose case led to the charges and convictions spent half an hour recounting an abusive relationship he vividly remembered with News Center 7′s Mike Campbell.

The 26-year-old man, whose identity the I-Team is not revealing, opened up about how he said Watson went from grooming him to eventually overtly telling him what he wanted.

“He built a relationship with me from 12-14 years old,” the victim said. “He was persistent, persistent all the way through until I would. He just told me to take my pants off.”

This 26-year-old man’s story is similar to other victims accounts the I-team uncovered in medical board reports and court records.

Watson, the records show, would hire boys when they were young, employing them to do odd jobs or yard work. The doctor would then work to gain their trust, making them comfortable not only at his medical office but also his home. Finally, Watson introduced them to narcotic drugs from his own medical supply.

“He would show me where he kept morphine, Demerol, promethazine,” the victim remembered. “The first time, when I was 14, he gave me a shot of morphine.”

The 26-year-old man believes in his and other abuse cases Watson hooking victims on drugs made it easier to sexually assault them.

Records the I-Team uncovered show the abuse sometimes took place at the former doctor’s office. More often, the sexual assaults where victims were often incapacitated, the documents show, happened 200 feet behind Watson’s office inside his home.

“I was in and out of it, I knew what was going on but I wasn’t coherent to stop it,” the victim said.

The 26-year-old man said the drugs helped victims endure the abuse and shame.

“If I can suffer through this, for however long, I can get the drugs and I’ll be fine,” the victim added.

Investigators believe the well-respected Watson, who had served Germantown for decades, including his victim’s families, used his community pillar status to hide his abuse and convince victims to stay quiet. The victim the I-Team spoke with said he thought Watson, who was his family doctor, was an adult he could trust. Eventually, he said, Watson told him about others he said he had abused.

“He would tell me stories,” the victim remembered. “He told me stories of other young men, before me, that he would have sexual encounters with.”

In Dec. 2019, the 26-year old detailed his underage sexual abuse to Germantown police investigators. Because of limited resources, and recognizing potential conflicts of interest, the GPD team turned their investigation over to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office. At the same time, Ohio State Medical Board investigators were looking into Watson accusations. Seven months later the public first learned about the case.

In July 2021, the state Medical Board released complaints explaining why they had immediately suspended Watson’s medical license.

“While Patient 1 was under the influence of the narcotic drugs, on multiple occasions, perhaps as many as 100 times, you engaged in sexual acts,” one complaint read.

Another complaint said Watson’s former employee of confronted him for, “Administering morphine to adolescents and teenagers and engaging in sex acts with them.”

That same worker told medical board investigators the doctor, “Did not deny it and later encouraged the employee to delete phone messages.”

As the accusations increased, and the criminal investigation was made public, Watson never requested a State Medical Board hearing. In early Aug., Montgomery County prosecutors announced they had reached a plea deal with Watson’s lawyers.

The doctor admitted to 11 counts of felony sexual battery, involving three separate victims, between 2005 and 2018. One month later, on Sept. 30, Watson appeared in front of Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Mary Montgomery for sentencing.

Montgomery blasted Watson for continuing, throughout his legal proceedings, to refer to his sexual abuse victims, who were all under 18 when the abuse started, to have been part of consensual relationships.

Judge Montgomery recounted how investigators said dating back to the 1980s there were as many as 11 victims. The statute of limitations prevented up to eight cases from going to trial. She also noted Watson’s abuse went unchecked for years.

“You had an oath as a doctor to do no harm, instead you inflicted and exacted life-long harm,” Judge Montgomery said. “What lies beyond that outward appearance is a much more sinister and dark person.”

For answers, and to understand the State Medical Board’s system for preventing provider abuse, the I-Team traveled to their Columbus office.

Executive Director Stephanie Loucka said legal requirements force the Board to keep an investigation’s details confidential, forever. She said she was not able to detail what started the investigation.

“I’m not,” Loucka told Campbell.

However, she explained the process, starting with her staff.

There are 85 medical board employees responsible for regulating about 92,000 Ohio medical providers. About 20 of those employees, Loucka said, are investigators. The executive director also said, within the law, the Board is working to be more transparent. For example, she pointed to the public immediately being informed about why Watson’s license had been superseded in July, before his first hearing.

“We spell those reasons out and we make that publicly available on our site, so the public knows,” Loucka said.

Campbell asked Loucka if she understood the frustration people feel for the length of time it often takes for medical provider crimes, like those Watson has been convicted, to be uncovered.

“Certainly I do,” Loucka said. “What we want people to know is, the faster we learn about something, the faster we can take action.”

Loucka said the Board’s investigators review complaints from patients, loved ones, other medical providers and office workers. The I-Team obtained records showing so far this year the board has received more than 7,000 total complaints. However, the numbers do not show which complaints involve sexual misconduct allegations. In total, the I-team was told during the last 25 years, 1,250 providers were investigated for sexual misconduct.

The ongoing system review, first started after Gov. DeWine’s 2019 order, means all 1,250 cases are now being reexamined. It is still unclear how many of complaints have been determined to be legitimate. Or how many led to medical provider disciplinary action.

The Board’s leaders say the system heavily depends on patients and their loved ones being abuse reporters.

“We really need individuals to say something, we really need individuals to come to us to share that,” Loucka said.

Today, there are no signs Watson’s former Germantown office was once a thriving medical practice. The doors are locked and the sign out front has been removed. However, for some victims, what went on there for years is still fresh on their minds.

“What he did to me was terrible, what he did to people before, and after me, was terrible,” the 26-year-victim said.

Watson’s six years of abuse left him psychologically damaged and physically hooked on drugs. He began his recovery journey three years ago. Along with getting clean when he was 23, he says he started telling his survivor story. He, too, is still looking for better ways to stop predators and abusers.

“To be honest, I don’t know,” he told the I-Team. “There’s a lot of shame involved, a lot of embarrassment”.

This man makes it clear victims, especially teens, are often not ready to report abuse. He is calling on anyone who sees potential problems to report their suspicions. He says that kind of support eventually led him to file his initial Germantown Police complaint.

Even months later, with Watson’s conviction and sentencing, he still does not feel much less pain or closer to the closure he hopes will come one day.

“I still struggle with this, even today,” the victim told Campbell.

The I-Team is continuing to monitor the State Medical Board’s responses to the governor and public’s demands to more effectively handle provider sexual abuse complaints.

For help, State Medical Board leaders said they have established a more streamlined on-line complaint reform at: https://med.ohio.gov/REGULATION/FILE-A-COMPLAINT. They have also started a confidential complaint hotline, which can be reached at: 1-833-333-SMBO.