Thirty-two sexual abuse victims have reached an $80 million settlement with Kamehameha Schools — an agreement that officials say is the largest-ever of its kind in Hawaii.
During an emotional press conference Friday in downtown Honolulu, however, victims and their loved ones stressed the other terms of the deal with one of the state’s most powerful institutions.
The settlement requires Kamehameha Schools to maintain an independently run hotline for students to provide information on potential wrongdoing or abuse.
“The money, that’s a big amount. But, will it take away the pain? No. A’ole. This pain never going to leave me,” said Aliko Bajo, who attended Kamehameha Schools in the early 1970s.
“We have to believe that our pain and our anguish wasn’t for nothing,” Bajo told reporters Friday, his voice shaking and tears gathering in his eyes. “It was for something. For this, right now.”
The terms of Friday’s agreement also require Kamehameha to establish a fund to help other victims who may come forward for their therapy, medical expenses and any other programs to assist with their trauma.
The outcome follows the latest, nearly three-year legal battle between Kamehameha and alums who said they hid for decades the abuse they endured while students there, often struggling with rage, shame and substance abuse. Two of them eventually committed suicide, according to court records.
Notably absent from the settlement is St. Francis Medical Center, the facility that employed Dr. Robert McCormick Browne. He’s at the center of the scandal and thought to have sexually abused many more students than those listed in the recent lawsuits.
“Kamehameha Schools knows that there were hundreds out there,” plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Green said Friday. Some of those other victims died, while others were fearful to endure the public ordeal of a lawsuit, he said.
Furthermore, Green and another plaintiffs’ attorney, Mark Davis, said they uncovered separate, more recent alleged instances of abuse by Kamehameha Schools faculty and staff members that had nothing to do with Browne.
Davis said they’ve turned over those details to the school, and he declined to elaborate after Friday’s press conference.
Green and Davis said they would help Kamehameha Schools pursue a “contribution claim” against St. Francis to cover some of the settlement costs.
Kamehameha Schools did not immediately respond for comment — a spokesman said the school would issue a comment later Friday. A spokesman for St. Francis — now known as St. Francis Healthcare System — said the group would wait for Kamehameha Schools to comment first.
Browne is believed to have sexually abused at least 34 boys, most of them Kamehemeha Schools students, from the late-1950s to the mid-1980s –when he saw hundreds of students as St. Francis Medical Center’s chief of psychiatry.
According to the allegations in a 2016 lawsuit brought on behalf of 32 students, Kamehameha Schools leaders and faculty members learned what was happening but were grossly negligent — they failed to protect some of the school’s most vulnerable students from Browne’s “monstrous” abuse.
The suit alleged that Browne “repeatedly, regularly and systematically” preyed on scores of students sent to him for behavioral or disciplinary issues. He would manipulate his victims into sexual activity with drugs and claims that the acts were a normal part of treatment, it added.
Browne committed suicide by shooting himself in the head on Halloween night in 1991, shortly after one of Browne’s victims called him and vowed to expose him.
When the abuse was happening, school officials didn’t alert authorities — or take any other action — after Browne’s victims informed them, according to the lawsuit. Some students were even threatened with expulsion if they didn’t continue to attend their regular sessions with Browne, the suit stated.
According to the allegations, one of the victims whom Browne regularly abused during therapy sessions from 1975 to 1977 visited the campus’ medical clinic, Hale Ola, immediately following the first incident. He was traumatized, and his blood stained his school uniform, undershirt and underwear. The student reported to school officials — including its directors of counseling and boarding — that Browne had raped him but they took no action and did not reported Browne to authorities, the suit stated.
“By its silence, Kamehemeha Schools perpetuated a cover-up, leaving Plaintiffs to continue to suffer years of on-going anxiety, distress, emotional harm, substance abuse, self-blame, rage, anguish and mental illness,” it reads.
On Friday, Davis and Green commended Kamehameha Schools for finally compensating Browne’s victims after years of resistance.
“Gone are the days” at elite institutions like Kamehameha Schools “that they hear about something, they want to conceal it, they want to protect their reputations, they want to have the victims sign non-disclosure agreements,” Davis said.
The school has faced scandal before — in the late-1990s the so-called “Broken Trust” crisis uncovered years of trust mismanagement. Davis said Friday’s settlement will likely usher the school into a new era of transparency and accountability — similar to the global #metoo movement that’s exposed widespread sexual harassment and abuse.
“I firmly believe that they understand now that the culture which manifested a secrecy of these types of claims is gone,” Davis said.
Green put it more bluntly. “These trustees were put in the bull’s-eye” decades after the abuse and negligence occurred, he said. “We may have had to squeeze a little bit, but their hearts are in the right place.”
Two of the plaintiffs listed in the suit, Christopher Conant and Edward Kaula, eventually committed suicide after years of struggling with the emotional trauma of Browne’s abuse, the suit stated.
Kaula shot himself, while Conant overdosed on drugs and alcohol, according to the suit. “My brother’s life was ruined by this situation,” Conant’s older brother, Blake, said during an emotionally charged 2016 press conference announcing the suit’s filing.
Browne, as one of Kamehameha School’s “dorm sponsors,” also sexually abused boarding students during weekend stays at his Manoa home, the suit stated.
Victims further allege that Browne abused them at the apartment of a former Kamehameha Schools principal Diana Lord, according to the plaintiffs’ attorneys.
Browne served as the school’s psychiatrist until 1985, the suit states. In the early 1990s, as the first allegations surfaced following his suicide, Kamehameha Schools leadership made no effort to contact any of the hundreds of former students whom Browne had treated.
Michael Chun, Kamehameha’s president from 1988 to 2011, has said he relied on “guidance from the legal department” and ultimately “took no further steps” to locate other potential victims – even after he and other school officials were convinced that the initial several allegations were true, according to court documents.
When the plaintiffs’ attorneys asked Chun in 2016 why the school didn’t even try to identify all the students whom Browne had treated, Chun responded: “Can’t say, just did not happen.”
Victims expressed cautious optimism that Kamehameha Schools will do better handling reports of sexual abuse — but they don’t think that change will happen overnight.
Bajo said he continues to deal with insomnia, depression and anxiety. He expects he’ll be in therapy the rest of his life — “but that’s OK,” he added.
“My pain never going to go away. But in the process, I hope I can help some other people who went through this or are going to go through this,” Bajo said.
Also Friday, Malia Lum Marquez shared the decades-long struggles of her brother, Anthony Lum. Browne regularly abused Lum during treatment sessions from 1977 to 1981, according to the suit.
Lum, she said, hid what happened from his family and fell into drug abuse. He approached the attorneys handling the suit six months before he died of congestive heart failure in 2015.
Her brother was comical and loyal — he wouldn’t fight with people, she said, adding he wouldn’t fight back when she would angrily confront him about his drug problems.
“The drugs could help the dark places he was in. Now we know. Now we understand why he did what he did,” Marquez said Friday. “I still have aloha for Kamehameha. But what I don’t have is my brother. There’s no amount of money that can bring him back.”
“There’s no more secrets. It’s time to protect our kids.”