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BAD MEDICINE

Douglas Clark, a military doctor at Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Aurora, is facing criminal charges and a court-martial as a result of sexual harassment accusations brought forth by a female civilian radiation therapist. Army officials are now considering a request by Clark to resign from the service rather than face the criminal proceeding.

But the prospect of the Army captain's ignominious exit from the military offers no great comfort, says his alleged victim, Maryam Saffari. The charges have come, Saffari says, only after a year of institutional coverups, retaliation and attacks on her credibility. Military personnel proved so intent on protecting Clark, Saffari contends, that her boss threatened to close down her entire department rather than deal with her claims about the physician's conduct.

Clark's actions, says Saffari's fellow therapist, Wayne Dzingle, were tacitly condoned by other doctors and hospital supervisors who did nothing while witnessing such incidents as Clark chasing Saffari around a conference table.

And Saffari herself had been reluctant to complain, in large part because of her religious and cultural upbringing: For an Iranian woman to report such things, she says, is shameful and an embarrassment to her family. But finally, she says, "I took so much that I could not take it anymore."

Saffari, a petite, dark-eyed woman in her early thirties, received radiation-therapy training in San Diego and accepted a civilian position at Fitzsimons in 1987, where she is now the lead therapy technologist. Saffari says her problems at the hospital began early last year, a few months after the arrival of radiation oncologist Douglas L. Clark, an Army captain. (Clark did not respond to phone calls requesting an interview. His attorney, Michael Bender, says he advised his client not to speak with the media.)

The harassment began, Saffari says, "with small touches," a pat on her shoulder, a squeeze on her arm. Sometimes, she says, Clark would apologize and say he'd touched her accidentally, but the contact escalated to arm-wrestling and then full-contact wrestling. "He would pick me up and turn me upside down," she recalls. "He would touch my breast, buttocks and crotch."

Saffari claims she always protested: "I said, `No. No touching.'" And she says that when Clark persisted, she would sometimes fight back by slapping him, choking him, scratching his face.

Her attacks on him apparently did not have the desired effect: When Saffari would hit the doctor, Dzingle says, Clark would laugh and call her "a feisty rascal."

Nor did Saffari's threats to report Clark's actions to higher-ups dissuade him. Clark's response, Saffari says, was always, "Nobody cares. Nobody will do anything."

Soon Clark began openly discussing his sex life in front of Saffari and others. And then, according to the official charge sheet in which the accusations against him are outlined, Clark followed Saffari down the hallway, "smelling her and asking her if it was her `period' because he liked that."

Clark, the charge sheet says, would stick out his tongue and wiggle it to simulate how he would perform oral sex on Saffari. He also gave her a handwritten list of things he'd like to do to her, including "Accompany me in a bath with lime Jell-O." Once, Saffari told investigators, Clark entered a room where she was using the telephone. He then ducked into a shower stall behind her, stripped, and tried to draw attention to his nudity by pushing the shower curtain aside.

One day, Dzingle says, Saffari was eating lunch and speaking on the phone with a male friend when Clark came up, pressed his ear to the receiver and attempted to listen in. "Maryam turned away, but he still stood there and tried to listen," Dzingle says. "She took a spoonful of cottage cheese and flung it at him to make him go away. He left and came back with a banana and a jar of mayonnaise and rubbed it in her hair and pushed her to the ground." On another occasion, Dzingle says, he and Saffari were having lunch on the front lawn of the hospital when Clark came up to them, straddled Saffari's hips and touched her inner thigh.

In November, Saffari (accompanied by fellow therapist and union steward Don McCoy) complained to Dr. Tony Eng, then-chief of the radiation-therapy department. "Maryam talked extensively about the out-of-control behavior by Clark," McCoy says, but the pair did not ask to file a formal sexual harassment complaint against Clark. "Maryam was saying, `You deal with it. If that means talking officer to officer, so be it,'" McCoy recalls. "If that meant filing with EEO, so be it. We just wanted him to correct the problem. We were expecting him to make the right decision. He didn't."

In a follow-up memo to Saffari, Eng wrote that Clark "has been formally counseled." That was followed, McCoy says, by "a tense truce." In the latter part of January, Saffari says, Clark began the shoulder-patting again. And then, she says, on January 28 he reached around from behind her and squeezed her breasts. Saffari and McCoy again went to Eng. A subsequent meeting with Clark, McCoy says, was heated and angry: Clark denied Saffari's claims, and Eng threatened to shut down the entire department. Saffari says she considers that threat a reprisal against her complaints.

Eng followed up the meeting with a memo laying out his options to resolve the "tense working relationship between Dr. Clark and Mr. McCoy and Ms. Saffari."

His options, Eng wrote, were: "Continue present operation with a more professional attitude by all staff; outside counseling for both Dr. Clark and Ms. Saffari to improve working relations; close the Radiation Therapy Service as a final solution." There was, he wrote, "no best solution."

Saffari and McCoy disagreed--they took the memo and their complaints to the union and to the hospital's Equal Employment Opportunity office. "The first question [the EEO officer] asked me was, `Are you going to sue?'" Saffari says. "I said `No. I just want justice to be done. I just want him out of here.'"

McCoy and Saffari say the EEO officer didn't explain that there were two ways to proceed--civilly and criminally. Instead, the officer set the wheels in motion for a criminal investigation, an option Saffari says she had not known existed or particularly wanted.

In March the Army outlined its charges against the doctor. And in late May Saffari became the star witness in an Article 32 hearing, a sort of pretrial investigation into the accusations against Clark.

Saffari says that Clark's defense attorney, Michael Bender, grilled her for seven straight hours during the hearing. It was, she says now, little more than a "fishing expedition at the expense of my dignity and privacy. I had to divulge much personal information unrelated to the charges against Captain Clark." She says she was especially upset because the Army's attorney made no attempt to object to the questions or to protect her from what she felt was Bender's badgering.

In an attempt to discredit Saffari's credibility, Bender questioned her about the amount of overtime she put in at work and suggested that she'd tried to defraud the government in an attempt to bring another relative from Iran to the United States. ("Miss Saffari's credibility," Bender says of the Article 32 hearing, "was proven to be suspect.")

Clark later was arraigned on the criminal charges, but Saffari says the experience shook her. It was only after she consulted a private attorney, Saffari says, that she learned that other options--including an EEO investigation and possible lawsuit--might be closed to her because she and McCoy hadn't specifically asked for a sexual harassment investigation. That might very well shut Saffari out of the lengthy and complicated process that would result in an EEO hearing, a federal suit and a settlement.

It also could mean, McCoy says, that no one in the hospital administration will be held accountable for the "foot dragging." By steering Saffari away from the civil complaint path, McCoy says, the Army and the EEO office were "setting Maryam up to be revictimized, knowing that [a civil complaint] was the only way to hold them accountable."

Eng and his boss, Colonel Marvin Hill, decline to be interviewed about McCoy's allegations. But spokeswoman Helen Littlejohn denies that the administration was slow to react to Saffari's accusations of sexual harassment or--as McCoy has charged--that the hospital administration turns its back on doctors' misbehavior.

"It's absolutely not true that there is a level of tolerance for sexual harassment," Littlejohn says. "Definitely not. That is why we take quick action. Our commander does not tolerate this kind of behavior."

As for Clark's court-martial, it may never happen. Clark has asked to resign in lieu of the criminal proceeding, a request now under consideration by the Department of the Army. If approved, that could mean Clark would receive something less than an honorable discharge, his attorney says.

Fitzsimons personnel disciplined Clark last spring, suspending his hospital privileges and his right to admit and treat patients there. Although most hospitals would have to provide such information to the State Board of Medical Examiners, which could then take disciplinary action of its own, federal hospitals are immune from reporting requirements. It's not known whether Clark is working at another hospital.


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