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Lawsuit claims former KU professor used disabled patients in Iowa for sex research

Kansas City Star - 2/12/2020

Feb. 12--More than 200 severely disabled patients at a state-run home in Iowa were used as subjects in research of sexual arousal that was led by a former University of Kansas assistant professor, according to a lawsuit filed this week.

Jerry Rea, who had been a researcher at KU for 16 years, is accused in the suit of using "highly vulnerable" Glenwood Resource Center patients "as the subjects or 'guinea pigs' in research experiments."

Glenwood is described in the suit as an intermediate care facility for individuals with intellectual disabilities, some of whom are non-ambulatory, non-communicative and rely greatly on the medical and other professional staff at Glenwood for their health care, "and indeed for their very survival."

Filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, the lawsuit follows a Department of Justice investigation launched in November into claims of experiments conducted at Glenwood without the consent of the patients or their guardians.

DOJ officials and officials from the Iowa Department of Human Services, which oversees Glenwood, declined to comment on the lawsuit. In a statement, the DHS said it "is committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of those we serve, and our employees. We continue to take all necessary action to address all allegations."

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of several former Glenwood employees, including a nurse practitioner, the former director of quality management, a physician who had worked there and a former employee who was also the guardian for two of the center's patients.

When workers at the center attempted to report the wrong doing, the suit says, they were silenced, punished or terminated.

In addition to Rea, who is a child psychologist; the Glenwood Resource Center; and the Iowa Department of Human Services, the suit names Jerry R. Foxhaven, the former director of the state's department of human services; Richard Shults, former DHS director of the Division of Mental Health and Disability; and Mohammad Rehman, the medical director at Glenwood.

According to the suit, Rea and other top-level administrators at Glenwood were involved in a "scheme" to destroy healthcare and supervisory systems "designed by the DOJ and other agencies to safeguard the health and civil rights" of these patients in an attempt to make Glenwood into a research center that conducted "sexual arousal" experiments on the center's residents.

Before he was hired as acting superintendent at Glenwood in September 2017, Rea, 63, had assistant research professor status at KU from 1999 through January 2015. He did research on topics related to deviant sexual behavior and arousal at KU's Life Span Institute at Parsons in southeast Kansas. His position was funded through grants and contracts. When those contracts ended, he was an affiliate of the university -- associated with and/or providing specific research services to the university voluntarily and without compensation.

"We ended the affiliate status in January 2019 in light of his move to Iowa," said Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, a KU spokeswoman.

According to the lawsuit, Rea had received a patent in 1998 from the U.S. Patent Office for a device used to detect and monitor sexual arousal of an individual while the person is exposed to real-life sexual stimuli.

He used roughly $60,000 in taxpayer dollars to renovate his personal residence using the maintenance staff at Glenwood to do the work, the suit says. It also claims that Rea used taxpayer money to purchase, without authorization, tools for his sex-related research, including silk sheets, boxer shorts, sexual lubricants and pornographic images.

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