JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A judge ruled Wednesday afternoon that an embattled pediatric dentist facing 12 counts of fraud is not competent for prosecution.
Dr. Howard S. Schneider, 78, closed his practice on University Boulevard and surrendered his license in 2015 after he was accused of abusing children in his practice and he was indicted on 11 counts of Medicaid fraud and a 12th count of schemes to defraud.
The state claims that the pediatric dentist billed Medicaid hundreds of thousands of dollars for procedures that he didn’t perform. Parents claim that Schneider abused children.
More than 100 patients have settled cases of claims that the dentist “assaulted, humiliated, tortured and mutilated children.”
A judge ordered a psychiatric evaluation after Schneider’s defense lawyer filed a motion last April that he wasn’t able to assist in his own defense.
At the time, the defense motion claimed his attorneys, "have observed that he suffers from severe mental deficits and lack of memory which give counsel concern that Schneider is incompetent to proceed."
At a hearing Wednesday, both sides were briefed on the findings of four separate evaluations and they agreed with the judge’s ruling that Schneider is not mentally competent to stand trial.
"That determination was based on the report of the experts who evaluated Dr. Schneider from both sides, the state and the defense, and that's how this conclusion came about," explained attorney Rhonda Peoples-Waters.
Peoples-Waters, who's not affiliated with the case, said the evaluations were necessary and had they not been thoroughly conducted, they could have ruined the case.
"If he were convicted, he would be able to possibly, successfully file a motion to reopen his case and it could throw out sentences. So these things definitely have to be reviewed," Peoples-Waters said.
Schneider was not in court for Wednesday's hearing. He remains free on $110,000 bond, and is now living in St. Simons Island, Georgia.
A March 6 hearing was set to decide where Schneider will be placed for treatment.
Peoples-Waters said that they have ordered a conditional release for Schneider, which means he won't be sent anywhere to stay indefinitely, and he will be able to go back and forth from his St. Simons Island home to treatment.
Attorney John Phillips, who represents 131 former patients of Schneider, said he has waited for the criminal proceedings to be completed so he can take Schneider's statement in civil cases.
"Today, they were denied that right," Phillips said of the incompetency ruling. "This does not mean he was found not guilty or that the criminal justice system won’t be monitoring him, but every victim I have spoken to has been in tears or outrage because they want Dr. Schneider to answer for his abuse, fraud and deceit."
One parent protested outside Schneider's former office on Thursday, hanging a handwritten sign over the office building sign that read "No Justice for Our Children?"
Parents report abuse by dentist
Included in the state's evidence gathered for the fraud case are nearly a dozen similar accounts from parents telling investigators what they and their children experienced in Schneider’s office:
"That man doctor threw me."
"He choked me and pulled my teeth."
"They’re lying to you."
The Office of the Attorney General Medicaid Fraud Control Unit interviewed them as a part of its investigation of the dentist. Parents of Schneider's patients recounted hearing screams, children injured during procedures, and children getting procedures the parents didn't even know about.
Parents reported that their children's lips were bruised, their kids were very scared, and one patient was found face down on the floor.
One parent took a child to Schneider's office for a procedure that was expected to take 30 minutes. After three hours, the parent went to the window three times, and an assistant finally said there was an incident.
When the parent was finally able to see the child, the child was hyperventilating and had marks, scratches and blood all over.
According to one document, Schneider’s assistant told the person that the child was on a papoose board and “We stepped out, came back and (he/she) was face first on the floor.”
But the child had a different story, telling investigators: “They’re lying to you. That man doctor threw me, and that lady picked me up when I was on the board, and she was laughing at me and sat on me and choked me.”
The parent told investigators: “I saw that my baby was missing all (his/her) teeth.”
The documents also include what experts told investigators about Schneider, including:
- His consent form is too general, and he should get consent from parents before performing additional procedures.
- His charts had poor progress notes.
- The quality of work performed on the patients was low and below standards of care.
- The type and amount of sedation that Schneider was using on the children was very mild and would not be strong enough for a child 3 years or older.
One dentist who treated patients after they had seen Schneider told investigators: "It was like if Dr. Schneider had done crowns, the crown was gone. If Schneider had done a filling, the filling was gone."