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Superior plays host to doc’s sex assault trial

By Tom Olsen

Duluth News Tribune

A Douglas County jury is expected to decide the case of an Eau Claire doctor who is accused of sexually assaulting 15 juvenile boys. A trial, slated to begin today in Superior, is scheduled to run three weeks.

David Van de Loo, 61, a longtime physician at the Mayo Health Clinic System, faces 16 felony charges related to the alleged sexual assaults of the underage patients.

The case has garnered significant media coverage in Eau Claire County because of Van de Loo’s prominent status, prompting Judge Michael Schumacher to grant a defense change of venue request and move the trial to Superior.

The trial will be held in the Government Center, and both county courtrooms will see business as usual, according to the clerk of courts office. But officials have warned that the trial will bring an influx of people to the area, creating congestion and parking difficulties around the government buildings.

Twelve jurors and four alternates, all from Douglas County, are expected to be seated today during jury selection. Jurors will hear from as many as 100 witnesses, including eight experts, during the trial, according to the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram.

The accusations against Van de Loo, a pediatrician and sports medicine specialist, first arose in August 2012 after he performed a sports physical exam on a 16-year-old boy, the newspaper reported.

The parents became concerned about the doctor’s actions and reported the incident to Mayo officials. Van de Loo was placed on administrative leave the next day and fired less than two weeks later.

The Eau Claire County District Attorney’s Office filed two felony criminal charges against Van de Loo on Oct. 10, alleging that he tried to induce an erection in the 16-year-old three times during the hourlong exam.

Prosecutors added additional sexual assault charges in December 2012 and January 2013 when additional accusers came forward, bringing the total to 16 charges. Van de Loo pleaded not guilty to all charges on Feb. 26, 2013.

The jury is expected to weigh evidence and testimony to determine whether Van de Loo’s actions during examinations constituted sexual gratification or were simply part of standard medical procedures.

Van de Loo told police that he manipulates a penis with his hand to check for sexually transmitted diseases, according to the criminal complaint. But several other doctors told investigators that his actions were not standard procedure and that it is inappropriate for a doctor to stimulate an erection.

Van de Loo, who had practiced at Mayo since 1994, and defense attorney Rich White filed a change of venue motion in February 2013.

Judge Schumacher granted the request, but his decision to move the case to Superior was controversial, the Leader-Telegram reported. The judge opted to move the proceedings, rather than bring in an out-of-county jury to hear the case in Eau Claire County.

Eau Claire District Attorney Gary King, who is prosecuting the case, said he preferred that the trial be moved to Wausau in Marathon County. White and Van de Loo suggested Shell Lake in Washburn County.

The move to Douglas County means that the judge, his staff, the attorneys, defendant, witnesses and observers must travel about 150 miles for the three-week trial.

In addition to the criminal charges, Van de Loo is facing civil lawsuits filed by 26 former patients.