Following his arrest for allegedly touching a 12-year-old patient inappropriately, calls from dozens of others alleging similar incidents, and the temporary suspension of his medical license by the state Board of Medicine, Johnstown pediatrician Dr. Johnnie “Jack” Barto still has a community of supporters.
A public Facebook page titled “Support for Johnnie ‘Jack’ Barto” was created Jan. 18, the same day the charges against Barto were filed and he was arrested by Richland Township police.
Barto, 70, of the 200 block of Delta Drive, faces two counts of indecent assault and one count each of corruption of minors and endangering the welfare of a child based on allegations that he rubbed a female patient’s vaginal area while she was seated on his lap during a Dec. 21 visit at Laurel Pediatrics on Budfield Street.
The Facebook page in support of Barto, which had 123 likes as of Thursday afternoon, says its purpose is “to show love and support from those patients, parents of the patients, and anyone who knows and loves Jack Barto.”
A message sent to the page went unanswered, but several comments on Barto’s support page come from local parents whose children were patients of Barto.
Caitlin Hogue described Barto’s attentiveness to her as a young mother, playing with her older children and involving her family in her youngest daughter’s first examination.
“I don’t believe any of what’s been said,” her comment reads.
“They are so ‘convenient’,” she wrote of the allegations against Barto. “I will continue to support this man and his offices. They are all so compassionate to us.”
Donna Gennett McKendree wrote: “We know these allegations are unfounded” and “are very proud of the caring, dedicated, professional, intelligent doctor he is.”
Michael Rose described his experience with Barto as his children’s doctor.
“I find this all so hard to believe,” Rose wrote. “My heart hurts for him. I know he is a good man. He’s proven that to me time and time again.”
Nancy Acitelli wrote that she has known Barto for more than 30 years.
“He is the only doctor we trusted with our children, grandson, nephew, niece and her girls,” Acitelli wrote, calling Barto a “very caring, compassionate doctor who absolutely loved his calling in life. The truth will come out.”
Laurel Pediatrics’ website no longer lists Barto as one of its providers.
During an interview with police, Barto “made admissions to having inappropriate contact with the child,” demonstrating that he was holding the child on his lap with his hand directly over her vaginal area, according to the criminal complaint.
“When asked about holding the child in that location, (Barto) described holding her tightly in her crotch area and also sometimes on her waist,” the complaint says.
The alleged victim told authorities during a forensic interview at the Cambria County Child Advocacy Center that at a prior appointment, Barto “would rest his elbow on her crotch area while he was talking.”
Last week’s arrest is not the first time Barto was accused of inappropriately touching patients.
In 1998, he was accused of sexually molesting two girls during office visits. At that time, Barto maintained his innocence, fought the allegations and cleared his name in 2000.
In May of that year, the state Board of Medicine in Harrisburg, which had been investigating the matter for two years, permitted Barto to keep his license and begin serving patients again, reporting there was no evidence to support the allegations.
Richland Township police Detective Tom Keirn said the 1998 allegations never resulted in criminal charges and the Cambria County Prothonotary’s Office has no records of any civil complaints ever filed against Barto for those accusations.
Medical license at issue
On Monday, Barto’s medical license was temporarily suspended, according to an order filed by the state’s Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs within the Department of State.
The order suspending Barto’s license says if the allegations are true, allowing Barto to continue practicing medicine would create “an immediate and clear danger to the public health and safety.”
A preliminary hearing on the status of Barto’s medical license has been scheduled for Feb. 12, according to Kaitlin Murphy, deputy press secretary with the state Department of State.
That hearing will determine whether the allegations against Barto warrant the restoration of his license or the continuance of the temporary suspension.
Barto, who posted $1,000 cash on his $10,000 bail the day he was arrested, is also scheduled for a preliminary hearing on his criminal charges Feb. 28 in front of District Judge Susan Gindlesperger.
Conditions of Barto’s bail prohibit him from having contact with juveniles without supervision.
Prosecution and defense
Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan referred the case to the state attorney general because of a potential conflict of interest, because several DA staff members utilize Laurel Pediatrics and Dr. Barto for medical services for their children, she said in a statement last week.
Callihan also said she believed there was a likelihood the investigation might cross county lines, as Barto maintains offices in both Cambria and Somerset counties.
Authorities investigating Barto’s case reported Monday that they’d received about 35 calls in support of the victim and from those providing details of similar incidents in years past.
With the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General handling the case, investigators say a grand jury could be used for families coming forward with formal accusations. Senior Deputy Attorney General Simquita Bridges has been assigned to the case.
Barto has hired Johnstown attorney David Weaver, online court documents say.
Weaver has not returned several calls for comment.
Jocelyn Brumbaugh is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter @JBrumbaughTD.