A former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was accused of grabbing a woman's behind and arrested on Friday on a sex abuse charge. But he said the allegation "does not reflect" who he is or his values.
Dr. Thomas Frieden appeared in a New York criminal court on Friday in connection with the groping allegation, which the woman said occurred on Oct. 20, 2017, at his Brooklyn home. He did not enter a plea.
The 55-year-old accuser reported the encounter in July, and Frieden was taken into custody after an investigation.
Frieden, who is also a former New York City health commissioner, is charged with forcible touching, sex abuse and harassment.
The judge ordered Frieden to refrain from any contact with the woman and to surrender his U.S. passport. Frieden was freed on his own recognizance, leaving in a car with his lawyer. His next court appearance is Oct. 11.
Frieden leads a global health initiative called Resolve to Save Lives.
"The allegation does not reflect Dr. Frieden's public or private behaviour or his values over a lifetime of service to improve health around the world," said a statement issued on his behalf.
Health exec defends Frieden
Jose L. Castro, president of Vital Strategies, the company that houses Resolve to Save Lives, came out in support of Frieden. He said Frieden informed him in April that "a non-work-related friend of his and his family of more than 30 years accused him of inappropriate physical contact."
"I have known and worked closely with Dr. Frieden for nearly 30 years and have seen first-hand that he has the highest ethical standards both personally and professionally," Castro said in a statement. "In all of my experiences with him, there have never been any concerns or reports of inappropriate conduct."
Nonetheless, earlier this month Vital Strategies hired an investigator to interview Resolve to Save Lives employees even though the woman didn't work there. Castro said the investigation found no inappropriate workplace behaviour.
"Vital Strategies greatly values the work Dr. Frieden does to advance public health and he has my full confidence," Castro said.
Frieden was a CDC disease investigator in 1990 when he was assigned to New York City and worked on a large outbreak of drug-resistant tuberculosis. He stayed, taking a job heading the city's tuberculosis control.
In 1996, he began working in India with the World Health Organization on tuberculosis control.
Attacked chronic diseases with aggressive measures
Frieden became New York City's health commissioner in 2002 and was known for his aggressive measures to attack chronic diseases. In 2003, New York banned smoking in almost all workplaces, a precedent-setting move that inspired other cities to do the same. In 2006, it became the first U.S. city to ban restaurants from using artificial trans fats and required hundreds of eateries to post calorie counts on their menus.
In 2009, the Obama administration picked Frieden to head the CDC. Frieden led U.S. public health efforts during a range of high-profile national and international health crises, including pandemic flu, Ebola and Zika.
Frieden was CDC director until January 2017, when he resigned as part of the turnover to President Donald Trump's administration.
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