"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.'"
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.
"I was shocked that he wasn't arrested," Cadigan says, adding he believes that Mercy Hospital protected the bad doctor. "Mercy was well aware of his activities and did nothing about it until a patient finally [reported] him."
Lugo also blamed the hospital in a suit against the doctor, Mercy, and the Miami Heart Institute. But Kirkpatrick's departure delayed the hearings, and Lugo died around 1998, according to Cadigan. The suit was dismissed shortly thereafter.
(A spokeswoman for Mercy said she could not comment on the case, in part because it happened so long ago.)
Kirkpatrick, meanwhile, vanished, quietly packing up his family in 1995 — shortly after the state's report was released — and leaving town. A short while later, a family of five arrived in Bracey, Virginia, a town of 2,000 residents near the border with North Carolina. They settled into a house on Hemlock Lane, alongside windswept Gaston Lake.
There, Kirkpatrick quickly reinvented himself. He began calling himself Pat and told parishioners at the Ebony Assembly of God Church that Alzheimer's had forced him into retirement. He also claimed that a hurricane had destroyed his family's home in Miami.
Pastor Ralph Fletcher took a liking to Kirkpatrick, according to White. When Fletcher left in 2000 to found his own church, Kirkpatrick followed. It was at Fletcher's Emmanuel Worship Center that the Whites met Kirkpatrick. (Reached on the phone, Fletcher told New Times he had "no comment" on the ex-doctor's case.)
Then, when one of Kirkpatrick's daughters married White's brother, the two clans became family. But White never felt quite right about the retired doctor. Around 2007, Kirkpatrick began spending a lot of time with White's then-14-year-old son.
"At first it was at church; then it was camping trips, stuff like that," White says. "We started to notice a pattern. There were promises of cars, stuff like that." Kirkpatrick tried to turn his son against his parents, he claims, and the teen eventually moved out.
Finally, this fall, White says, he discovered letters from Kirkpatrick to his son. "Remember the good times that we had in the rest areas," one said. Another featured a stick-figure drawing of a little boy. "This is a good likeness of you," the letter said, "but it needs more emphasis on the crotch."
White filed a restraining order against Kirkpatrick. It split the family and stirred emotions and rumors in rural Mecklenburg County. Then, in August, the doctor's daughter, Stacie, called and asked to meet at Denny's.
After reading for himself about "Doctor Scumbag" in New Times, White called the cops. But not until they interviewed his son did White understand the extent of Kirkpatrick's abuse. The 18-year-old broke down, telling sheriffs that Kirkpatrick had repeatedly performed sex acts on him when he was a minor.
"My first thought was I want to choke the life out of him," White says. Instead, on November 19, Mecklenburg prosecutors charged Kirkpatrick with forcible sodomy. But the doctor had already fled to his in-laws' house in St. Petersburg, Florida. On November 21, roughly 20 years after reports about his predatory behavior first surfaced, St. Petersburg police placed Kirkpatrick in handcuffs.
His daughter has cooperated with investigators. She was reluctant to speak with New Times, but she was torn by the case. "It's gut-wrenching. I guess that would be a good way to put it," Stacie says. "My sisters and I were very young when we left Miami. We never knew anything about all this."
The 71-year-old Kirkpatrick remains in Pinellas County Jail awaiting extradition. Other victims have come forward alleging abuse by Kirkpatrick, according to Officer Chris Whittemore of the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office. But so far, no additional charges have been filed.
For former patients like Lugo, the doctor's arrest comes two decades too late. White believes his son's abuse could have been prevented if Florida authorities had arrested Kirkpatrick in 1995.
"I don't know how someone could get away with all that," White says. Miami and rural Virginia may be "two different worlds," he says, but ultimately they both failed his son.
"I think a lot of what protected Homer Kirkpatrick was that he had been a doctor. Who would think that a doctor with an alleged great reputation would ever do anything like this?"
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