Austin State Hospital

SAN ANTONIO — A child psychiatrist fired over allegations that he sexually abused two residents at a state hospital for the mentally ill had been accused of sexually abusing patients several times during his 21 years working there, state officials said Thursday.

State investigators looked into all of the allegations of sexual abuse involving Dr. Charles Fischer when they were made, but they found no confirmation of abuse until last month, said Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Family Protective Services. Fischer was fired Monday from the Austin State Hospital, where he worked in a supervisory role at the Child-Adolescent Psychiatric Services Unit.

Austin police said Thursday that Fischer, 59, is under investigation but has not been charged. He did not immediately respond to a phone message left Thursday at his Austin home, and it was not clear whether he had an attorney.

State officials declined to release even the most basic details of the allegations against Fischer, including how many people accused him of sexual abuse and how old they were when the alleged abuse occurred.

“We are all heartbroken over these allegations. We’re investigating the situation and considering our next actions,” Texas Department of State Health Services spokeswoman Carrie Williams said. “These kids come to us to heal, and the situation is very sad and extremely troubling for everyone involved.”

Disability Rights Texas, a federally funded nonprofit tasked by the government to help monitor state facilities for the mentally ill and disabled, said its records indicate there have been as many as eight allegations against Fischer. Beth Mitchell, an attorney for the organization, said there is indication the allegations go back a decade.

Mitchell said her organization is now trying to uncover why previous allegations against Fischer were unfounded.

Mitchell said that while she doesn’t believe the state’s standard for “confirming” an allegation is too high, she said investigations commonly end with the alleged victim being discredited.

Mitchell said Fischer has never popped up on her organization’s radar before.

Fischer had worked since 1990 at Austin State Hospital, which is part of a system of 11 state hospitals for people with mental illnesses. Crimmins said state caseworkers have received “several reports alleging sexual abuse by Dr. Charles Fischer dating back several years,” but would not elaborate.

Last year, state investigators confirmed 39 cases of sexual abuse in facilities that are either state-run or contracted by the state. Yet investigators “confirming” an allegation of abuse are rare: Fewer than 2 percent of more than 2,100 abuse allegations made in state psychiatric hospitals in 2010 were confirmed by the state.

Theater and dance majors Lindsey Miller, left, and Cara Smith, right, peruse the tables covered in shoes, apparel, knickknacks and house ware in front of the Peter Flawn Academic Center during a university-wide garage sale Friday afternoon. All merchandise was priced at $1 and proceeds benefited the Campus Environmental Center.

Photo Credit: Danielle Villasana | Daily Texan Staff

Tables filled with clothing, shoes, accessories, school supplies, electronics and household items dominated the entrance plaza to the Flawn Academic Center as a student environmental group hosted its seventh annual “Trash to Treasure” garage sale.

The Campus Environmental Center raised $2,144 on Friday by selling items students in campus residence halls donated at the end of last semester. Most clothing items and pairs of shoes cost only $1. Of approximately 2,000 pounds of items for sale, the group sold 80 percent and donated the remainder to Austin State Hospital, a local mental health facility.

Campus Environmental Center adviser and sustainability operations assistant manager Karen Blaney said Austin State Hospital and the center have had a mutually beneficial relationship since 2008.

“They’re always in need of clothes for their residential patients,” Blaney said. “They’ve been able to come with a van and rolling bins and pick things up really efficiently, so we’ve always worked with them.”

Many universities collect items from student dormitories at the end of the year in charity drives, but UT is unique in reselling those items to students, Blaney said.

“It’s really easy to explain to the student population what we’re doing, and people really like the idea of thrift sales,” Blaney said. “We need a fundraiser that makes sense for what we do, for the Campus Environmental Center message.”

“Trash to Treasure” coordinator Reanna Bain said the organization usually holds the garage sale before the fall semester but changed the date this year to increase publicity opportunities.

Bain said she hopes the event will encourage students to think about how items they no longer want can be reused by others and help them develop recycling habits.

“For students, their lifestyle choices now reflect what they’re going to do in the future,” Bain said. “If they recycle now, they’re doing their part with their community, and that’s what they’re going to continue doing as adults when they’re out of school.”

Psychology senior Lisa Johnson said the sale was an opportunity to shop for necessary and fun items while sticking to a budget.

“I have a job where I have to look professional,” Johnson said. “Professional clothing is extremely expensive, and this is so much easier. This is so much better for me.”

Adesile Okeowo, a Middle Eastern studies teaching assistant, said he frequents garage sales because U.S. retail goods are far more expensive than those in his native Nigeria. He said throwing away the items would have been a wasted economic opportunity.

“It could have been thrown away, and it’s going to deny some people access to things,” Okeowo said. “After I got a few things from the H-E-B, Target, Wal-Mart, CVS, I stopped buying things from there. They are just too expensive for me.”