but for some of the 2,000 patients he saw in his private office over the past four decades, Ayres allegedly scarred their lives instead.
“It’s like a stain that doesn’t wash off,” said Greg Hogue, 37, of Santa Rosa, one of 21 men who prosecutors say have accused Ayres of molesting them as boys as far back as 1969. “He is trained to know exactly what kind of damage he is causing and is doing it anyway. That’s what blows me away.”
Ayres, 75, a former president of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, appeared Friday in a Redwood City courtroom after his arrest at his San Mateo home Thursday night. He did not enter a plea to 14 molestation counts alleging that he masturbated three boys in his office from 1991 through 1996, when they were 9, 11 and 12 years old.
The alleged victims, all now in their 20s, are not named in court documents. Ayres, who is married and once served on a children and family commission with San Mateo County District Attorney Jim Fox and Supervisor Richard Gordon, faces up to 112 years in prison if convicted, prosecutors said.
During the four-year criminal investigation, 21 men accused Ayres of molesting them as children, prosecutor Melissa McKowan said, but childhood sexual assault charges could be brought in only three cases because the statute of limitations for such crimes is 10 years or until the victim turns 28.
Several alleged victims and a social worker wondered how Ayres could continue receiving dozens of referrals from the juvenile justice system for nearly two decades after the first complaint was lodged.
“He continued to be sent families and kids who put their trust in him when the county knew that there was this report put in by me and possibly others,” said Jeff Lugerner, who was a licensed clinical social worker when he brought a complaint to authorities in 1987 after Hogue told him Ayres had fondled him at age 15. “That’s what’s shocking to me. How do you continue to send people to somebody like that when you have had a claim filed against them?”
San Mateo police investigated the 1987 complaint and determined it was unfounded, the social services report read. County Counsel Thomas Casey said he couldn’t comment on how the county handled earlier complaints against Ayres.
For decades, the psychiatrist with the ruddy face and reddish beard — now turned gray — was a fixture in San Mateo County mental health circles. The county’s juvenile justice system, its court-appointed attorney program, pediatricians and social workers all referred patients to him for years.
He evaluated a patient referred by Juvenile Court Judge Marta Diaz as recently as March 2003, even though San Mateo police or the county Social Services Department had received at least three complaints of molestation by that time, including Hogue’s report with the department in June 1987, records show.
Police also investigated a Folsom state prison inmate’s allegation that Ayres had molested him, according to the transcript of police Detective Randall Billingsley’s 2004 deposition in a civil case brought by a former patient.
The inmate, who had been convicted of armed robbery, told a nurse during an evaluation at Atascadero State Hospital that Ayres had molested him during court-ordered sessions, Billingsley said. The detective said he was unclear on the outcome of that original investigation by his department. The inmate refused to talk to Billingsley when he followed up about 10 years later, the detective said.
A third incident was reported to San Mateo police in November 2002, records show. The alleged victim balked when police asked him to try to get Ayres to confess over a recorded phone call or to wear a recording device and confront the psychiatrist in person, the police report read.
That victim later filed the civil suit against Ayres after a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling struck down a state law that had retroactively extended the statute of limitations for child molestation and allowed prosecutions years after the alleged crimes occurred.
County and court payments to Ayres stopped shortly before that lawsuit was filed in December 2003, documents show. The lawsuit ended with a confidential settlement in July 2005, after which Ayres’ attorney said the psychiatrist did not concede any wrongdoing.
Margaret Kemp, who worked as a San Mateo County judge from 1978 until 2004, said Ayres had a “glowing” reputation, and she referred as many as 200 cases involving juvenile sex offenders to him.
“He always did good work for the court,” Kemp said. “I never had reason to question him. … When we had kids who were charged with sex offenses, we would send them to him for evaluation.”
In an interview Friday, Kemp mused that her words sounded similar to those voiced in her courtroom by supporters of accused child molesters.
“Every time we saw someone charged with child molest, family and friends would stand up in court — even after the person had pleaded guilty — and say there had to be a mistake, he wouldn’t do such a thing,” said Kemp. “I hear echoes of that in what I’m saying to you. Oftentimes, child molesters, particularly middle-class, educated people, are completely unsuspected by people who live with them or work with them.”
Dr. David Schwartz, who worked for San Mateo County from 1965 until his retirement in 1987, said he initially thought highly of Ayres but later grew suspicious when a youth, who was living in a group home, adamantly refused additional treatment by Ayres.
“I had referred him to Dr. Ayres, but after a visit or two, he refused to go back and he wouldn’t talk about it,” said Schwartz. “His social worker and I were both concerned. That was my first clue.”
His second clue came years later, when a San Mateo detective consulted Schwartz, asking whether it was common practice for a child psychiatrist to perform a genital examination with a latex glove.
“I said absolutely not,” Schwartz said. “I told him that it was entirely inappropriate, unnecessary and potentially very destructive to a child. He did not name Dr. Ayres, but when I said Dr. Ayres to the detective, he nodded. I put two and two together.
“Child psychiatrists have a lot of power, they are almost priest-like,” Schwartz said. “These kids were reluctant to see a psychiatrist in the first place. In the child community, going to a shrink is something to be ashamed of. It’s a trust issue, and betrayal of trust is unconscionable.”
One of Ayres’ alleged victims, who is now dead, was detained in a juvenile facility for a few days in 1973, when he was 14, for drinking beer in a park. At the facility, Ayres had him strip naked and lie on an examination table while the doctor fondled his genitals, the victim later told his mother.
When news of the civil lawsuit settlement was released two years ago, her son told her about the alleged molestation, then went to San Mateo police, the mother said.
“They said the case was too old, but he insisted they make a report,” the mother said Friday. “My son carried this with him all his life. He had thought he was the only one.”
The chargesDr. William H. Ayres, a prominent San Mateo psychiatrist, is accused of 14 felony counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14. He allegedly molested three boys repeatedly between 1991 and 1996 while they were his patients.