D.C. pediatrician Robert Dickey sentenced to 18 months in child porn case


A sign on the door of the office of pediatrician Robert P. Dickey, charged with possession of child pornography, in May 2013 in Washington, DC. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
December 17, 2013

For decades, Robert P. Dickey was one of the only pediatricians who treated families in some of the District’s poorest neighborhoods. He made house calls on his bicycle and didn’t charge families who could not afford care.

But in a federal courtroom Tuesday, Dickey found himself in a navy blue jail-issue jumpsuit listening to nearly a dozen former colleagues, patients and parents describe their deep affection for him, asking a judge for leniency despite troubling revelations that he had a collection of graphic child pornography on his office computer.

Before sentencing Dickey to 18 months in prison, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Wilkins said he had struggled to reconcile the pediatrician’s long commitment to the community with his conduct.

“It’s not just looking at some dirty pictures. It is pictures of kids having been abused in the worst possible way,” Wilkins said at the sentencing hearing. “It’s really sick stuff.”

Dickey, 74, pleaded guilty in September to downloading and viewing graphic sexual images of young children in his office east of the Anacostia River — down the hall from the exam rooms where he had treated patients since the early 1970s. Prosecutors have said there is no evidence that the doctor inappropriately touched his patients or any other child, and he voluntarily gave up his medical license.

Dickey spoke publicly in the courtroom for the first time since his arrest in May, agreeing with the prosecutor that he had breached a long-standing trust with his patients.

“It grieves me to no end to see their suffering as a result of my indiscretion and egregious behavior,” Dickey said. “I’m really ashamed of what I’ve done, and I’m sure I’ll never be able to clear the path of doubt for many people.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ari Redbord had asked Wilkins to sentence Dickey to nearly five years in prison — at the low end of federal sentencing guidelines.

Dickey’s attorney Marlon C. Griffith had requested jail time of no more than one year and one day because of the doctor’s “demonstrated commitment to his patients and his community.”

“Whatever disease he has can be best treated by mental-health professionals, not through incarceration,” Griffith said.

A search of Dickey’s e-mail account and computer turned up 132 pornographic images involving children, according to his signed plea agreement. Redbord called Dickey’s assertion that his viewing of the images was for educational pursuits “disingenuous nonsense.”

The judge agreed but sentenced Dickey below federal guidelines because of several factors: his age, testimony from former patients about an admirable career of service and Dickey’s surrender of his medical license.

Former patients and their families described Dickey as a partner in parenting who shunned such formalities as appointments and insurance payments. Some mothers and fathers become tearful on the witness stand, explaining that they could not have survived their first years as parents without Dickey’s expert guidance at all hours of the day. Many said that they were shocked by Dickey’s admission but that he would be better served by mental-health treatment than jail time.

“He did something wrong, and yes, he needs to be punished, but not like this,” said Monica Contee, a former patient who managed Dickey’s Penn-Branch office for more than 20 years.

Former patients asked the judge to let the community help a man who had taken care of them for so many years.

“It was never about the money,” said Brenda Pinckney, a former medical secretary and mother of two of Dickey’s patients. “With him, it was always about the patient.”

Ann covers legal affairs in the District and Maryland for the Washington Post. Ann previously covered state government and politics in California, New Hampshire and Maryland. She joined the Post in 2005.
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