Saffron Restaurants reservation Florida TV station investigates former Wisconsin child abuse doctor

Florida TV station investigates former Wisconsin child abuse doctor

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At Wisconsin Watch, we specifically serve Wisconsin residents by providing information to help people navigate their lives, participate in democracy, and hold people in power accountable. When considering whether to continue a particular story, we always consider its potential to impact Wisconsin.

But sometimes the scope of an investigation crosses state lines, prompting us to think: How can we serve people affected elsewhere?

The answer often lies in collaboration.

Such was the case in our investigation of a former University of Wisconsin doctor with a history of disputed child abuse diagnoses — first in Wisconsin, then in Alaska and most recently in Florida, as reported last week by the TV station First Coast News , building on previous reporting from Wisconsin Watch.

For thirteen years, Dr. Barbara Knox was the leading expert on child abuse in south-central Wisconsin. She testified or provided evidence in approximately 200 criminal cases. Some of the people convicted with her help clearly abused children. But some serving long prison sentences say they are innocent. Others, acquitted after being falsely accused of abuse, have sued Knox for defamation and life-changing disruptions to their families.

Wisconsin Watch began investigating Knox’s work in early 2020 after she quietly resigned from her role leading the University of Wisconsin Hospital’s Child Protection Team. At the time, we knew of a case of parents who said they had been wrongly accused. After we profiled that couple, others came forward. We then identified a dozen cases in which other doctors, police, prosecutors, judges or juries rejected Knox’s diagnoses of child abuse.

After hearing that Knox had been hired as Alaska’s top child abuse expert, we alerted the Anchorage Daily News. That resulted in a collaboration that charted the doctor’s legacy in Alaska: Wisconsin Watch provided context from our reporting in Wisconsin, while the Daily News drew on local sources and knowledge of Alaska’s systems.

In early 2022, we jointly profiled an Alaskan couple accused of abusing their three-week-old daughter, whose injuries likely resulted from her complicated birth. When we learned that Knox had abruptly announced her resignation from her job in Alaska, amid a misdiagnosis and allegations of harassment similar to those in Wisconsin, Alaskans learned this too – thanks to the Daily News’ role in the reporting.

In August 2022, we reported that Knox joined the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Jacksonville and had received a medical license in Florida months earlier.

About eighteen months later, we learned about a disputed diagnosis of abuse in Jacksonville involving Knox. A Georgia couple lost custody of their three children — and a father was arrested on preliminary charges of aggravated battery and cruelty to a child — after Knox attributed the injuries to their infant daughter to abuse. The couple claimed the injuries were the result of a medical condition.

As we pondered which Florida news station would be best to investigate, we heard from a reporter who had already started reporting on it: Heather Crawford of First Coast News.

Instead of using Wisconsin Watch resources to investigate the case in Florida, we shared insights from our previous investigation with Crawford, allowing her to tell the story to her audience in Florida. Meanwhile, Wisconsin Watch co-founder and former editor-in-chief Dee J. Hall — who reported our first stories on Knox and edited others — spoke on camera with First Coast News. Hall, now editor-in-chief of the nonprofit newsroom Floodlight, discussed what our reporting had previously found.

“There is no doubt that some of the cases she identified as abuse were abuse,” Hall told First Coast News. “But it was in these cases where you could have multiple mechanisms, multiple causes for some type of disease or condition, that we saw that being contradicted by prosecutors filing charges and then dropping them. We saw it contradicted by police officers after interviews.”

The Georgia couple and an expert they hired told First Coast News that their child’s injuries — including broken bones — were caused by genetic problems that started before birth. The child, conceived through in vitro fertilization, was born prematurely and diagnosed with severe intrauterine growth retardation after being malnourished in utero.

The father has not yet been charged and the couple hopes to get his children back, First Coast News reports. The criminal case is now in the hands of a local prosecutor, who will consider charges.

We will leave it to our colleagues in Florida to monitor future developments in the case. We’re glad we played a small, behind-the-scenes role in First Coast News’ watchdog reporting – even if it didn’t mean publishing a story ourselves.

Most importantly, Florida viewers received the information from a trusted newsroom well positioned to cover it.

Wisconsin watch is a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom. Subscribe to our newsletters for original stories and our Friday News Roundup.

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