Last Updated: 3:38 p.m.
When the State Attorney’s Office dropped a misdemeanor battery charge against Florence Fruehan in late October, the result of allegations that he’d inappropriately groped a patient during a medical examination, it appeared as if Fruehan would beat a criminal charge for the fourth time in two decades, including along the way a felony charge of sexual assault.
Today, Fruehan, 59, of 15 Flagship Drive in the Hammock, was booked at the Flagler County jail on two new felony charges brought by former patients who say he touched them inappropriately when they’d gone to his clinic. Both alleged victims are older than 65. Under Florida law, battery of a person 65 or older is a felony. Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies picked up Fruehan in the Hammock and took him to the jail for booking. He was expected to post bail on $10,000 bond.
Today’s arrest is the latest development in a series of precipitous reversals in Fruehan’s career, starting with a complaint filed by a patient with the state Department of Health last year. That complaint alleged that Fruehan was inappropriate with her during a medical exam, prompting the department to launch an investigation. In a settlement ending the investigation, Fruehan agreed to surrender his medical license and stop practicing medicine anywhere. A medical board ratified that surrender in November. (See the original story here.)
The sheriff’s office in the interim launched its own investigation and filed two misdemeanor charges against Fruehan. The State Attorney’s Office followed up on one of the two, but eventually dropped it, saying the statute of limitation had passed.
“Our detectives have not stopped working on this case since it was first reported to us,” Sheriff Rick Staly was quoted as saying in a release this afternoon. “There is still more work to be done but I am pleased that the State Attorney’s Office has
moved forward on these two felony charges. I hope the victims feel that justice is being served.”
With the new charges, one of the alleged victims was 72 at the time of the incident, the other 77.
The 72-year-old woman who filed the charge was a long-time patient of Fruehan, as had been her late husband before his death in 2015, and the couple had long considered Fruehan a friend, according to the charging affidavit. They had previously socialized together outside the office. The woman had gone to his office on Pine Code Drive on March 10, 2016 for a physical so she could get a prescription medication. The exam was routine.
Afterward, however, Fruehan allegedly grabbed the woman’s hand and led her to another room, an office, where Fruehan appeared to lock the door after they entered. “Dr. Fruehan unzipped [the woman’s] black vest, unbuttoned the top two buttons of her blouse and began touching her breast on the outside of her bra with his hands,” the arrest report states. “He then grabbed her other breast lifting it up and touching it.” Fruehan didn’t say anything. He then left the room. The woman described herself as being in complete shock. She dressed, left the room and left the clinic as quickly as possible. She found a new doctor and never returned.
Fruehan called her twice in subsequent weeks. The woman hung up on him both times.
The woman’s description of the alleged groping follows much the same pattern that other women have reported, including the woman who originated the complaint to the Department of Health, and the 77-year-old woman who filed the other felony charge against Fruehan.
In that instance, the woman, who suffers from hypertension and required regular check-ups–Fruehan was her primary care physician–had gone to Fruehan’s Urgent Care clinic on March 29, 2017. Her physical exam began routinely, as it had many times previously. But at one point, Fruehan allegedly placed his stethoscope directly on the woman’s left n ipple and pressed down, according to the arrest report. The woman felt uncomfortable as Fruehan had never done that before in all the years he’d been treating her.
When Fruehan told her she could sit back, he made conversation with her unrelated to her health (he advised her to get out more often), then allegedly asked her, point blank, about her opinion of oral sex, using cruder terms. She told him abruptly: “I have no opinion.” The woman decided to find another doctor and told Fruehan’s staff that she would be leaving the practice.
When Fruehan found out, he called her four times. She saved the messages.
“This is Dr. Fruehan,” he starts in one of them, calling her by her first name. “I in no way meant that being demeaning to you.. I thought we could be frank and as far as repercussions go, that’s what I thought, I thought we could be open with one another.” He said he apologized “if you got as far as taken back by that, during that discussion,” and wishes her good luck.
He calls her back a minute later, tells her he thought he and she “were more like family, basically family doctor” (though family doctors in good standing are not known to ask their patients their opinions about private sexual practices in the abstract). He tells her that the doctor she had apparently chosen “will not give you the care that you receive from this office,” and tells her he wishes she had spoken with him first.
He called her again less than an hour later. The woman, already upset by the inappropriate touching, “found the harassing phone calls alarming,” according to Fruehan’s arrest report. “She felt he was trying to intimidate her and didn’t know what to expect from him next.” The report adds: “Similar victims with similar encounters have made reports to Law enforcement, those reports are consistent with inappropriate touching of female’s [sic.] breasts and repeated late-night phone calls.”
Those were not the only incidents a sheriff’s detective uncovered during her investigation. The detective listed several of those instances, though the women involved appeared to have declined to pursue charges, though some of them eventually changed their mind. Fruehan, the detective wrote in her arrest affidavit, “shows a pattern of violating the rights of female patients that appear to be vulnerable because of specific medications they are prescribed and/or family losses, and their age. He also displays behavior the victims collectively describe as intimidating.”
The two misdemeanor charges are third-degree felonies that each carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison, though offenders not convicted previously are unlikely to face prison time if convicted, but more likely to face probation, if a plea, often to lesser charges, isn’t entered.
For Fruehan, the ignominy of the arrest, the jail mug shots, the stain of his arrest record and the continuing public revelations of allegations against him, added to his recent surrender of his physician’s license, may prove to be more punishing for a man who thrived on his local renown and on a self-confidence that exuded invulnerability–or at least a claim to invulnerability that, four times before when facing criminal charges, he vindicated.