Dr. Thomas Frieden, who directed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from 2009 to 2017, was arrested on a sex abuse charge Friday after he was accused of grabbing a woman’s buttocks.
The 57-year-old doctor turned himself in to New York police in Brooklyn on Friday morning and was charged with forcible touching, sex abuse and harassment, according to the New York Police Department. The charges stem from a complaint filed in July by a 55-year-old unnamed woman who claims Frieden grabbed her buttocks in his New York apartment last October, police said.
Frieden’s spokeperson issued a single sentence statement: “This allegation does not reflect Dr. Frieden’s public or private behavior or his values over a lifetime of service to improve health around the world.”
Vital Strategies, a global health organization that currently oversees the non governmental health group that Frieden founded after leaving the CDC, said in a statement that they were informed by Frieden of the complaint of inappropriate physical contact last April. “In April of this year, Dr. Tom Frieden, who heads our Resolve to Save Lives Initiative, informed me that a non-work-related friend of his and his family of more than 30 years accused him of inappropriate physical contact,” said Jose Castro, president and CEO of Vital Strategies.
Castro also wrote that Vital Strategies conducted its own “thorough investigation by an external expert, which included an in-depth interview with every staff member on the Resolve to Save Lives team to determine whether there are any concerns about inappropriate behavior. This assessment determined there have been no incidents of workplace harassment.”
During his career, Frieden was a widely respected public health advocate with experience both overseas and in the U.S. in battling public health problems from tuberculosis to smoking — and, most recently, Ebola. From 2002 to 2009, he served as New York City’s health and mental hygiene commissioner, where he supported programs to ban smoking in public places and remove unhealthy trans fats from restaurant meals. He was appointed to head the CDC by former President Barack Obama in 2009.
As CDC commissioner, he spearheaded efforts to curb the obesity and flu epidemics in the U.S. and oversaw the country’s emergency response to the Ebola crisis. He defended the agency under Congressional criticism when health care workers in U.S. hospitals were exposed to Ebola while caring for patients. During his tenure, he also repeatedly campaigned Congress for continued support of the public health system.
After leaving the CDC, he created Vital Strategies’ Resolve to Save Lives, which works to improve public health responses to infectious disease outbreaks and address chronic illnesses such as obesity and diabetes. Resolve is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Castro said “I have known and worked closely with Dr. Frieden for nearly 30 years and have seen first-hand that he has the highest ethical standards both personally and professionally. Vital Strategies greatly values the work Dr. Frieden does to advance public health and he has my full confidence.”
The CDC referred calls about the charges against Frieden to law enforcement, saying it had “no information on this matter.” Resolve did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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