Doctor acquitted of 14 sex assault charges; mistrial declared on two counts
By Tom Olsen
SUPERIOR — A Douglas County jury on Thursday acquitted an Eau Claire pediatrician of 14 sexual assault-related felonies, but failed to agree on two other charges.
The partial verdict came after more than 21 hours of deliberation over three days at the Douglas County Courthouse. Jurors unanimously agreed to verdicts on the 14 charges, but remained hung on the final two counts after several fruitless hours of deliberation, prompting Judge Michael Schumacher to declare a mistrial on those charges.
Jurors were unable to determine whether 61-year-old Dr. David Van de Loo was guilty of second-degree sexual assault and causing a child to expose his genitals. Those were the original charges brought by prosecutors in October 2012 after a 16-year-old boy complained to the hospital that he was sexually assaulted by the doctor. The 14 acquittals came on charges that were later added to the complaint when additional alleged victims came forward in the wake of Van de Loo’s arrest.
The prosecution could opt to retry the two charges at a later date, but the acquittals on the 14 other charges are final.
The jury deliberated for two hours Tuesday afternoon and put in a 10-hour day Wednesday, but went home without coming to an agreement on the charges.
Jurors returned Thursday and told Schumacher at about 10 a.m. that they were in agreement on 13 of 16 counts, but could not reach a unanimous opinion on the final three. Schumacher sent them back to keep trying, and it took another four hours for them to agree on a 14th charge.
With the jury still deadlocked on the final two counts, Schumacher issued an “Allen charge” to the jurors. The seldom-used instruction, also called a “dynamite instruction,” is a last-ditch effort to avoid a mistrial by encouraging jurors in the minority opinion to reconsider their votes.
The jury sent another note to the judge at 6 p.m. informing him they were still deadlocked. The judge ruled that the jury had deliberated enough, allowing the 14 verdicts to be read and declaring a mistrial on the final two counts.
An Eau Claire County case, the trial was moved to Superior due to significant media coverage in Eau Claire and Van de Loo’s prominence in the community.
In two weeks of testimony, jurors heard from about 50 witnesses, including the alleged victims, their families, medical experts and Van de Loo himself.
A former pediatrician at the Mayo Health Clinic System in Eau Claire, Van de Loo was accused of inappropriately touching the genitals of 15 former patients ranging in age from 9 to 19.
In three hours of closing arguments Tuesday, attorneys for both sides told jurors that the case hinged on the question of whether Van de Loo’s touching of the boys served a legitimate medical purpose or was for the doctor’s own sexual gratification.
Prosecutors argued that Van de Loo was sexually aroused by the power and control he had over the boys. Assistant Attorney General Karie Cattanach told jurors that the abused boys had much in common — they were athletic, going through puberty and came from vulnerable family situations.
Defense attorney Stephen Hurley, however, argued that Van de Loo was simply a meticulous doctor who performed thorough examinations of his patients. Hurley called sexually transmitted infections an “epidemic” and said the doctor used his own method to test for diseases.
Van de Loo was fired from Mayo in September 2013 after a 16-year-old boy and his parents complained to the hospital that the doctor had tried to induce an erection three times during an hourlong exam. He was subsequently arrested and charged with two felony charges, which was upped to 16 when additional complaints were made.
Van de Loo is also facing civil lawsuits from 26 former patients who claim they were sexually abused.