"Doctor Scumbag" Abused Miami HIV Patients; 20 Years Later, He Finally Faces Justice

Donald White stewed inside the small-town Denny's as he nervously leaned on a coffee-stained table next to his wife. They were both terrified they'd been invited here to confirm their worst fears.

Outside, I-85 wound past South Hill, Virginia, on its way north to Richmond. Cars glinted in the August sun. Across from the Whites sat Donald's sister-in-law, Stacie, saying nothing. Finally, she tried to speak. "My father..." she began. Then she burst into tears.

Between sobs, the young woman said she'd found a sordid story online: Her dad was accused of sexually abusing scores of young men in Miami years earlier. Go on the web, she told White, and "just type in 'Doctor Scumbag.'"

Homer L. Kirkpatrick faces a sodomy charge.
Pinellas County Sheriff's Office
Homer L. Kirkpatrick faces a sodomy charge.

White raced home and Googled "Homer L. Kirkpatrick," a retired physician known around town as "Pat." Up popped two Miami New Times articles from September 1994 and April 1995. White felt sick as he read phrases such as "fondled and caressed patients against their will," "oral sex," and "molestation."

Kirkpatrick, whom White had welcomed into his home and who had been like a grandfather to his teenage sons, was actually a disgraced doctor accused of terrorizing Miami's HIV-positive community in the early '90s. "I was irate," says White, whose name New Times has changed to protect the identity of his son. "This man pulled the wool over our eyes for so long. Once we read these articles, it hit us real hard what was going on."

Eighteen years after New Times warned the world about Kirkpatrick, "Doctor Scumbag" is finally sitting in a Florida jail on charges of forcibly sodomizing a teenage boy — White's son. The real question is why Miami law enforcement officials ever let him go in the first place.

It wasn't for lack of evidence. In a September 28, 1994 article titled "Bad Medicine," New Times laid out a compelling case against Kirkpatrick. "The rumors had been swirling around Miami's AIDS community for at least two years," reporter Elise Ackerman's piece began. "Dr. Homer L. Kirkpatrick Jr. would do more for his patients than just treat their HIV infections."

Kirkpatrick, then a 53-year-old with a medical degree from the University of Miami, was one of the only local doctors who would treat HIV-positive men without private insurance. For patients such as Ezekiel Lugo, a 39-year-old father who'd contracted HIV from drug use, Kirkpatrick's clinic on Douglas Road was their only option.

Lugo said Kirkpatrick began abusing him almost immediately. The doctor lingered over rectal exams, asking Lugo if he was sexually aroused and making jokes about masturbation. The abuse escalated in 1992 when Lugo wound up at Mercy Hospital, where Kirkpatrick saw patients. Lugo claimed the doctor came into his room late at night to demand a semen sample. When Lugo couldn't provide one, Kirkpatrick stimulated him to ejaculation.

Then, in June 1994, Lugo was admitted to the Miami Heart Institute in Miami Beach for heart surgery. "I remember it was about 11:30, 12 that evening," Lugo told New Times. "I woke up to find [Kirkpatrick] under the bed sheet. And he was doing oral sex to me. I pushed him away and he went to the bathroom, sprayed something in his mouth, and turned around. He came back like nothing had happened."

Lugo claimed the doctor tried to trade him experimental HIV medications for sex, but he refused. When he sought other doctors, one gave him an article in a newsletter published by the People With AIDS Coalition (PWAC). The headline: "Dear Doctor Scumbag — Festering Pimple on the Face of the Medical Community Gets Popped."

"You know who you are," began the unsigned, four-paragraph letter. "The one sexually abusing your patients... What kind of disgusting pleasure do you get out of intimidating those in need who come to you in trust?"

Lugo was one of 17 men who sent PWAC letters alleging similar sexual abuse by Kirkpatrick. Miami police detectives launched an investigation, but it was set aside while the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration pursued the case.

Former employees at Kirkpatrick's clinic told New Times they couldn't reconcile the image of "Doctor Scumbag" with the compassionate family man they knew. The doctor was well dressed and gregarious. His wife, Sandra, also worked in the clinic, and his three daughters, then ages 10, 14, and 17, frequently visited.

Despite the sworn testimony of several victims, including Lugo, local police also had a difficult time believing the accusations. The heavy stigma against HIV patients at the time stunted the investigation, advocates argue.

"I think the police saw it as some big gay mess and they didn't want to get ­involved," says Dr. Patrick Cadigan, a former North Miami Beach physician who later treated many of Kirkpatrick's victims. "The police felt patients were somewhat below them because of their sexuality."

A month after "Bad Medicine" appeared in New Times, the Agency for Health Care Administration issued an emergency order detailing five separate incidents of alleged sexual misconduct. It cited Kirkpatrick as "an immediate and serious danger to the health, safety, and welfare of the public." But Miami-Dade prosecutors never filed charges. It's not clear why.

A Miami police spokesman said the department could locate only one report regarding Kirkpatrick — a complaint that the doctor masturbated a male patient during an exam — but that case was dropped when the patient refused to pursue criminal charges. A records search by the State Attorney's Office also found no documentation on Kirkpatrick.

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I think the State Attorney's office in Dade has always been more interested in prosecuting young, Black pot smokers than going after real crime.

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