FORT MYERS — Over two days in early July, three patients at a Fort Myers mental health hospital told detectives sordid stories of sexual abuse by Benjamin Bland.
One woman said Bland, a medical technician at Park Royal Hospital, sexually battered her in a bathroom. Another said Bland coaxed her into a closet, then closed the door and forced her to touch his genitals.
Still, investigators didn’t believe they had enough probable cause to make an arrest, and Bland kept his job at the hospital.
It wasn’t until two more patients came forward with allegations of sexual abuse this week that Bland was arrested Wednesday. The 44-year-old Fort Myers resident faces five sexual misconduct charges of an employee having sex with a patient in a mental health treatment center. He remained in jail on $125,000 bond as of Thursday evening.
The five women made various allegations against Bland, with some saying they voluntarily engaged in sex acts and others accusing Bland of forcing himself on them. Any sex act with a patient is a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison, regardless of whether the patient consented.
Park Royal Hospital CEO Michael Evans said he couldn’t comment on the allegations, citing patient privacy and confidentiality laws. Evans said all employees undergo “comprehensive” pre-employment background checks.
“In addition, the hospital maintains a zero-tolerance policy for any action that could endanger the physical or emotional well-being of a patient,” Evans said in the statement. “Employees found to be in violation of our abuse and neglect policies are immediately suspended pending a full investigation and prompt disciplinary action, including termination, is taken as warranted.”
Evans said hospital administrators were made aware of the three allegations against Bland in July and reported them to the Sheriff’s Office and appropriate regulatory agencies. The allegations were “fully investigated” by those agencies, he said.
“Had any of those allegations been substantiated, we would have terminated Mr. Bland at that time,” Evans said in an email, adding that Bland has since been fired as a result of the Sheriff’s Office findings.
A spokeswoman for the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, which licenses the hospital, confirmed officials are reviewing allegations of sexual assault by an employee at Park Royal Hospital. She wouldn’t confirm or deny the allegations were related to Bland.
Detectives started investigating the case July 8, when a patient reported an assault to hospital personnel, according to Bland’s arrest report.
The woman, who said she suffers from depression, bipolar disorder and several other mental health issues, said Bland made sexual advances on her, then sexually battered her in a bathroom.
When asked to clarify inconsistencies with her account, the woman couldn’t continue with the interview due to her mental state, a Lee County Sheriff’s Office detective wrote.
The next day, one woman made accusations of molestation against Bland. A second woman told detectives that Bland coaxed her into a closet, then closed the door and forced her to touch his genitals.
Despite the allegations, deputies couldn’t make an arrest in July, Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Tiffany Wood said Thursday.
“There was not enough evidence at that point, and one of our first three that put in a complaint in Park Royal did sign a complaint withdrawal,” Wood said.
Investigators returned to the case Tuesday, interviewing two more patients. The women said they performed oral sex on Bland, and one woman said Bland digitally penetrated her.
Investigators arrested Bland the next day. His statement to detectives is redacted from an arrest report. Calls to a number listed on Bland’s arrest report weren’t returned.
In an email, Evans said hospital officials “continue to cooperate fully with the authorities and are in communication with the patients or family members as we conduct our own investigation.”
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A Fort Myers medical technician is accused of sexual misconduct with five patients at a Lee County mental health hospital in recent months.
Benjamin Bland, 44, of Fort Myers faces five sexual offense charges following his arrest Wednesday by Lee County Sheriff’s officials.
Sheriff's officials confirmed the alleged offenses took place at Park Royal Hospital. Officials originally redacted the location, citing state law that allows a public record exemption for information that identifies victims of sexual abuse, but released the information Thursday afternoon after finding it should not have been exempted.
A spokeswoman for the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration confirmed Thursday in email that officials are investigating allegations of sexual misconduct by an employee at Park Royal Hospital, a Fort Myers mental health facility. The spokeswoman wouldn’t confirm or deny the allegations were related to Bland.
Park Royal Hospital CEO Michael Evans released a statement Thursday afternoon, saying he couldn't comment on the recent allegations due to patient privacy and confidentiality laws.
"We are cooperating fully with the authorities on the investigation," Evans said in the statement. "Every employee at the hospital undergoes a comprehensive pre-employment screening and background check. In addition, the hospital maintains a zero tolerance policy for any action that could endanger the physical or emotional wellbeing of a patient. Employees found to be in violation of our abuse and neglect policies are immediately suspended pending a full investigation and prompt disciplinary action, including termination, is taken as warranted."
Five victims said Bland initiated various sex acts with them starting in June, an arrest report said.
As recently as Monday, one victim said Bland digitally penetrated her, the report said. Another victim said Bland started masturbating in her presence and that oral sex was performed a few weeks ago.
One victim, who said she suffers from depression, bipolar disorder and several other mental illnesses, told deputies Bland sexually battered her in a bathroom in early July.
The arrest report indicates a detective interviewed at least three of the women in early July. In one case, a woman couldn’t continue with the interview when asked to clarify issues and inconsistencies.
Bland remained in a Lee County jail Thursday on $125,000 bond.