WTLV-TV/WJXX-TV, Jacksonville, Fla.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A Jacksonville pediatric dentist under investigation by the state of Florida is now the target of a class-action lawsuit alleging his practice is a front for a “sadistic and systematic scheme of physical and psychological torture and abuse” of “utterly defenseless” children.
In a lawsuit filed this week in the 4th Judicial Circuit Court in Duval County, Fla., Four plaintiffs accuse Dr. Howard Schneider of assault, battery, false imprisonment and intentionally inflicting “severe emotional distress” spanning decades from his office.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday follows days of protests outside Schneider’s office and a wave of complaints from parents alleging he physically abused their children, botched their dental work, and stonewalled parents and investigators when his methods were questioned.
It also comes just days after the Florida Attorney General’s Office confirmed Schneider’s practice was under active investigation for alleged Medicaid fraud.
The plaintiffs are seeking damages exceeding $15,000 and a jury trial, alleging his practice was a “house of horrors,” where some parents say their children were at times strapped down and left with visible injuries and marks to their faces and necks, that “has little to do with dentistry, but much to do with the Doctor’s deviant sadistic appetites.”.
The suit claims that Schneider’s practice specifically preyed on low-income, uneducated and non-English speaking clients to “limit the ability of these initially unsuspecting parents and families to protect their children” from his “deviant and violent” methods and threatened them to avoid exposure.
“Dentist Schneider’s deep need to inflict pain, torture, mutilate and humiliate, has driven him to create a specialized dental ‘practice’, which, by its very design and structure, provided him with a constant supply of especially defenseless, indigent, children to victimize,” the complaint said.
The suit — citing testimony from patients, parents and past employees of Schneider’s — also accuses him of being a “pathological sadist” suffering from a “psychosexual disorder” who derives “sexual excitement” from inflicting pain or humiliation on another person, consenting or otherwise.
Schneider, 78, has been practicing in Jacksonville for more than 40 years. He has never been charged with a crime in connection to the jarring allegations, which the suit says include:.
• “Choking children to the point of unconsciousness rather than using appropriate anesthetic prior to doing tooth extractions…”.
• “Performing non-medically necessary dental procedures” without anesthetic and “fraudulently” billing Medicaid for them.
• “Using fear and threats to scare and thereby silence his victims, including threats not limited to saying things like ‘Your mom will die’ if you tell her what happened…”.
Twice, though, first in 2001 and more recently in 2013, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has been called to his practice to deal with complaints about the dentist using excessive force on young patients. Court records also show that there were two malpractice suits brought against him in 1995 but they were later dismissed.
This week’s lawsuit alleges one mother called the Department of Children and Families after a visit to the dentist’s office April 15 when she said he pulled four of her 2-year-old son’s baby teeth instead of two. It said he was returned to his mother “crying profusely and covered in blood and bruises” and had been “cut on the bottom front outer gum line from ear to ear.”.
“(The Department of Children and Families) documented the scene, and attempted to contact (Schneider), who repeatedly refused to make an appointment to give a statement to DCF,” according to the complaint. His wife allegedly told the Department of Children and Families the child had injured himself during the procedure and “this type of thing happens all the time.”.
That complaint is one of four accounts detailed vividly in the lawsuit, which says attorneys for the plaintiffs have identified at least 60 victims of Schneider’s, some of whom are now adults. The suit suggests there could be as many as 1,000 victims from over the years who have yet to come forward.
John Harrell, a spokesman for the Department of Children and Families, said it was possible the department received a call about that complaint, but noted that the agency does not have jurisdiction over doctors and dentists.
“Legally, we don’t have the authority to investigate (them),” said Harrell, who encouraged parents to contact law enforcement to investigate claims of abuse involving medical professionals.
The agency, Harrell said, generally only gets involved when it comes to allegations of abuse or neglect at the hands of parents, caretakers and educators.
It’s not clear whether the Florida Board of Dentistry, which investigates allegations of malpractice and could revoke his license if the claims are founded, has intervened. The board’s investigations remain confidential until they’re complete.
An attorney representing Schneider did not return calls for comment about the lawsuit. However, in an earlier interview, Schneider dismissed the allegations.
“I’m sure in my lifetime I’ve done something that is off color, but it ain’t mistreat kids,” he said.