A respected San Mateo child psychiatrist who once did business with the county government was arrested Thursday at his home on charges that he molested patients.
William Ayres, 75, was arrested at approximately 6:25 p.m. at his home by San Mateo police officers without incident, Capt. Michael Callagy said. He is charged with 14 counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under the age of 14, Callagy said. Ayres was booked into county jail and is expected to be arraigned today.
Callagy did not release the number of alleged victims. All of the alleged incidents involved boys and took place in Ayres’ office, according to the captain.
The arrest is the result of a year-long investigation that began after the 2005 settlement of a civil suit in which an unnamed former patient accused Ayres of molesting him in the late 1970s, according to court records. That case began as a criminal investigation in 2002, but was dropped after a court ruling put the alleged crime beyond the statute of limitations.
The alleged victim settled for an undisclosed sum without Ayres admitting any wrongdoing. However, the suit prompted several other men to come forward and claim that they too were alleged victims ofmolestation, accusations that stretched from the 1960s through the mid-1980s. The California statute of limitations presently forbids prosecution of alleged child molestation crimes that date back beyond 1988.
In an August 2006 telephone interview, Ayres told The Examiner that he has never molested patients, but said he has conducted full-body examinations of them as a medical doctor.
“Child psychiatrists are physicians. Physical examinations are things that we are trained to do,” he said. Responding to a question, Ayres acknowledged that the examinations sometimes included contact with patients’ genitals.
The men who came forward and their families told The Examiner last year that they were frustrated by the settlement of the suit. The alleged victims and their spokeswoman, Victoria Balfour, urged police to open a case against Ayres and seek more recent alleged victims whose molestations would have occurred within the statute.
“It took some brave individuals to come forward and really get this ball rolling,” Callagy said, adding that police are still seeking other alleged victims. “We’re encouraging anybody with information on this case to come forward.”
More than a year ago, San Mateo police seized Ayres’ patient records under warrant. Working with the courts and the California Department of Justice, they winnowed through the files and contacted male patients within the statute of limitations to determine whether they, too, claimed to be molested, Callagy said. Detectives Rick Decker and Pete Bahmueller were SMPD’s investigators.
The alleged victims named in the criminal complaint are the result of that investigation. Their names are not being released by police.
“The real tragedy is that parents brought these children to Dr. Ayres for treatment, and they were victimized by this doctor,” Callagy said. “This was the ultimate violation of trust. He was in a position of trust.”
Callagy encouraged those with knowledge of the case to call police at (650) 522-7652.
Dr. William Ayres worked with San Mateo County government for nearly 50 years, almost as long as he was a doctor.
A 1956 graduate of the University of Wisconsin Medical School, he began work in San Mateo in 1963 at the Child Guidance Clinic of the San Mateo County Mental Health Department, according to his own testimony in a civil court deposition. He started his private practice in 1965. His group, Peninsula Psychiatric Associates, built its own, now-former office at 215 North San Mateo Drive in 1968.
He received frequent referrals from the San Mateo County Juvenile Court and the juvenile probation department, according to records obtained by The Examiner. In 2004 court testimony, Ayres estimated that the court and probation’s referrals accounted for 5 to 15 percent of his work in any given year.
Between 1997 and 2002, the court paid him more than $26,000 for forensic psychiatric examinations, according to court financial records. He was also paid $975 by the County Child Welfare Services Department in 2003 for a court-ordered psychological evaluation of a boy and his family in a juvenile case.
He also served on the San Mateo County Children and Families First Commission in the early 2000s, and was president of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry from 1993 to 1995.
He received further referrals from school districts. Greg Hogue, a former Foster City resident now living in Santa Rosa, alleged in an interview with The Examiner that he was abused by Ayres in 1985 at age 15. He claimed he was originally referred to Ayres by a school recommendation.
Hogue lodged a complaint against Ayres with San Mateo County Child Protective Services in 1987. The complaint was forwarded to police, who markedthe complaint as unsubstantiated, according to a photocopy of the record viewed by The Examiner.
It was not the only complaint against Ayres. In 1992, a prisoner undergoing mental evaluation at Atascadero State Hospital claimed to staff that he had been molested by Ayres, but later refused to talk to police, according to the 2004 civil deposition of San Mateo County District Attorney’s Inspector Randy Billingsley.
Ayres received these referrals in spite of his controversial early years.
In 1968, local school districts became ideological battlefields in a debate about whether sex education was a proper subject for school. In few places were the arguments as loud as in San Mateo County, where parents boycotted school bond issues and filed a lawsuit to keep “family life” education out of the classroom. And at the center of the debate was child psychiatrist William Ayres, a nationally quoted expert portrayed in many articles as a beacon of reason, accuracy and science.
Ayres achieved national fame in 1968, after he co-scripted and helped narrate “The Time of Your Life,” a 13-part television series produced by KQED for use with fourth- through sixth-grade students that teaches the broad topic of family life, including candid sexual discussion. It was praised by educators and doctors, according to San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle newspaper articles of the time, but a number of parents objected loudly, declaring it “pornographic.” Ayres himself said the series was helpful to children.
“For many years, kids have been coming into my office knowing some of the ‘facts of life,’ but with many facts left out. They wind up being bewildered, with a great many concerns and anxieties resulting from their lack of knowledge,” he told The New York Times in 1969.
School officials at the time praised Ayres’ approach.
“Our only disagreement is on the depth he went into on masturbation and the details of human intimacy,” Assistant County Superintendent of Schools Armin Weems said in August 1968.
But in the face of opposition, the San Mateo County Board of Education stopped requiring use of the videos in September 1968 after a trial run with its pilot family life education training, news articles indicated. San Francisco schools dropped using the videos in their own family life program after showing them in the fall of 1967. Both areas still kept sexual education as part of the curriculum, spurring a parents’ group to file a lawsuit against the San Mateo County board. The group lost, and the United States Supreme Court dismissed its appealed suit in 1976, according to news reports.