Austin American-Statesman
Former state psychiatrist charged with public lewdness
By Andrea Ball and Eric Dexheimer
Jan. 23, 2013

Charles Fischer waits in the elevator after appearing in court at the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center on July 12, 2012

Charles Fischer waits in the elevator after appearing in court at the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center on July 12, 2012

The psychiatrist facing felony charges that he molested five adolescent psychiatric patients under his care while he worked at the Austin State Hospital was arrested Tuesday afternoon and charged with public lewdness, according to police records.

Charles Fischer was taken into custody at around 1 p.m. on Rollingwood Drive just west of MoPac (Loop 1) near Barton Springs Road, according to an Austin police affidavit. The area described in the document is a small wooded park near the entrance of the Zilker Clubhouse.

According to the two-paragraph arrest affidavit, an Austin police officer patrolling the area saw Fischer go into a wooded area with another male. The officer said he spotted them a short time later having sex on the west side of the park.

The other man fled and was not found. Fischer, 60, was charged with public lewdness, a Class A misdemeanor for which he faces up to a year in jail. According to his report, the police officer was patrolling the area because the park has had “a high occurrence of lewd activity.”

Fischer’s bail was set at $5,000, and he was no longer in the county jail Wednesday. But his attorney, Chris Gunter, said the new charges would likely mean Fischer’s bond on his felony charges would be revoked, and he would be taken into custody in the coming days.

“It was an act between two consenting adults, however, they both used some extremely poor judgement in where they did this,” Gunter said.

The arrest is the latest in a series of legal and professional implosions for Fischer, who for 20 years worked as a respected psychiatrist at the hospital, a taxpayer-funded residential treatment facility for patients with severe mental illness. In November 2011, Fischer was fired and had his medical license suspended following accusations that he had sexually abused at least one child in his care.

A subsequent investigation by the Texas Medical Board determined that seven state hospital patients between the ages of 13 and 17 had accused Fischer, who earned $185,000 annually, of abusing them between 2001 and 2006. A 16-year-old had also levied similar accusations against the psychiatrist in 1992, when Fischer was working at the Waco Center for Youth, a state psychiatric facility for children and adolescents.

And in the early 1980s, when Fischer was working at the Southwest Neuropsychiatric Institute in San Antonio, a ninth patient had accused him of sexual abuse.

Yet none of the accusations could be proved and, despite one case being heard by a Travis County grand jury in 2002, Fischer was never charged.

That changed in late 2011, when the state Department of Family and Protective Services, responding to a renewed complaint, confirmed that Fischer had been involved in two cases of sexual abuse.

The agency terms an incident “confirmed” if its investigation shows the allegation is supported by a preponderance of the evidence. The state hospital quickly fired Fischer.

On Nov. 22, 2011, the Texas Medical Board summarily suspended Fischer’s license to practice medicine indefinitely “after determining that Fischer’s continuation in the practice of medicine constitutes a continuing threat to the public welfare,” according to the agency’s order. Fischer “has demonstrated a pattern of sexually abusing teenage boys in his care for inpatient psychiatric treatment over a period of nearly 20 years.”

Through his attorneys, Fischer has adamantly denied all of the accusations. But last June, Travis County prosecutors formally accused the psychiatrist with sexually abusing five boys in his care. In an 11-page indictment, Fischer was charged with two counts of sexual assault, nine counts of sexual assault of a child, seven counts of indecency with a child by contact and five counts of indecency with a child by exposure, according to the indictment.

Assistant District Attorney Dayna Blazey declined to comment on the pending felony cases.

Two months ago, the medical board barred Fischer from the practice of medicine until his criminal charges are resolved.

Officials for the Department of State Health Services, which oversees the state’s system of 10 psychiatric hospitals, have said the agency is cooperating fully with the criminal prosecution. It, as well as the Department of Family and Protective Services, has since announced a series of reforms to prevent future abuses by treatment staff. They include installing windows on treatment room doors, to looking for patterns of accusations to identify potentially abusive employees.

Disability Rights Texas, a non-profit organization officially designated by the federal government to protect the rights of people with disabilities, is investigating how state hospital physicians who have been accused of abuse, neglect and rights violations are permitted to continue working directly with patients. Its report has not yet been publicly released.