SEASON 03 | EPISODE 16
Bad Press (Season Finale: Part 2)
In the second part of our exclusive interview with Dr. Sally Smith, we discuss how the media coverage of her reached a fever pitch and turned her life and career upside down. We explore how not only the Netflix film but a high-profile piece in New York Magazine rewrote the narrative of the Kowalski case and Dr. Smith’s involvement to cast her as a villain.
We unpack the stories of the four other families in the Netflix film—featured as examples of “false allegations” made by Dr. Smith—and uncover the more complicated truth about what happened to the children involved.
We hear from Dr. Smith about how the media has stoked outrage and real-life threats and harassment against her, her coworkers, and her family.
We see the horrifying truth that what happened to Dr. Sally Smith could happen to any doctor in her position; looking at how the conspiracy theory of “medical kidnapping” is being constructed and affirmed by media on both sides of the political spectrum.
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Before we begin, a quick warning that in this show we discuss child abuse, and this content may be difficult for some listeners.
People believe their eyes.
That’s something that actually is so central to this whole issue and to people that experience this is that we do believe the people that we love when they’re telling us something. If you questioned everything that everyone told you, you couldn’t make it through your day.
I’m Andrea Dunlop, and this is Nobody Should Believe Me.
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In the Take Care of Maya trial, they painted Dr. Sally Smith as a villain. But critics say this might not be the first time she’s gotten it wrong… You can see that scorn, sense of anger. It’s not the first time she’s been at the center of controversy… In her deposition Dr Sally Smith came across as well unlikeable, scawling, combative, this is a look at…
In the last episode, we heard from Dr. Sally Smith, who was prominently positioned as the villain in the Netflix film [00:02:00] Take Care of Maya, all about how she got started in her career and what it’s been like to do this work for decades, along with raising two kids of her own. To read the stories about her, you would think that Dr. Smith has spent many years as some controversial, embattled figure, but this is actually a very recent development.
My previous experience would be, um, the few people that really knew what I did, thought it was a saint. Most people had no idea to have an opinion about me one way or the other. And you know, most of the time if somebody heard that I was a child abuse pediatrician, I don’t know how you do that kind of thing.
Not that Oh my gosh, you are one of the most evil people on the planet, of course, and your whole goal in life is ruining families. Like, I mean, just to me, in terms of hearing and seeing some of this stuff from the beginning, like, well, you clearly don’t know anything about me, [00:03:00] don’t know me at all.
So how did someone who has spent decades doing this honestly admirable and pretty unglamorous type of work becomes such a hated figure.
Mike Hixenbaugh’s article came out, so there was just a big, you know, internet hubbub at that point. Fortunately, I’m not big on social media at all, so I, I knew of the things, but, um I wasn’t really down the rabbit hole, as one would say.
Especially with child abuse pediatrics, the information that one would present to counter some of the stories from the disgruntled parents and the disgruntled defense attorneys and everything are everything’s confidential. So you can’t really tell the whole story, which then maybe that would make a difference in the discussion online. I mean, [00:04:00] you don’t really know.
Um, you know, I think also it’s interesting to me that at least the best I hear from most of the people that are on social media, the attention span is, you know, basically of a, whatever, toddler. And so I think there’s some thought that you don’t give it any oxygen and it’ll go away.
But of course, none of this has gone away. It’s only gotten bigger. And a lot of Dr. Sally Smith’s trouble in the media started with a local Florida journalist called Daphne Chen, who originally covered the Maya Kowalski case and was featured in the Netflix film Take Care of Maya. In addition to that reporting, she’s also done a bigger roundup of quote, false accusations made by Dr. Sally Smith called Bad Medicine, which she did for USA Today.
So this is fairly similar to the Mike Hixenbaugh’s series Do No Harm that we’ve [00:05:00] discussed on this show before. It’s a bunch of anecdotes about parents that say they were falsely accused, in this case, by Dr. Sally Smith. In the piece, Daphne Chen speaks to Dr. Jill Glick, who is the medical director of Child Protective Services at University of Chicago Medicine, who told Chen that doctors who burst into exam rooms and accused parents of abuse practicing, quote, bad medicine. She does note that Glick was not commenting on Dr. Sally Smith specifically, but Daphne Chen nonetheless used the quote for her title.
Covering this case has broken my brain a little bit. I find myself questioning everything, which is honestly a pretty familiar headspace for me given my life experience. And it makes me wonder how much of the other media that I consume that’s presenting itself as nonfiction, [00:06:00] you know, podcasts and documentaries, how much of that is also as far from the truth as the narrative of this case has been.
And if it’s like that for me, I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be at the center of this narrative the way that Dr. Sally Smith’s family is. We spoke to Dr. Sally Smith’s son, Patrick, about the effect that watching this all play out has had on him. I think that the wires kind of get crossed in your brain when you’re worrying about something that’s that intense.
And I listened to, you know, various hot take episodes on the film just to see what people were saying. And it was just one after the other, people saying like, this woman deserves to, anything from go to jail to, to die. And, um. Yeah, it created, I think like the association in my brain is now with like a fair amount of stress with any sort of coverage of this case.
And then also [00:07:00] sort of the format of podcasting has been kind of distorted for me now. I remember first reading about the Maja Kowalski case really vividly because it showed up in what had previously been one of my favorite publications, New York Magazine, which I’ve been a subscriber to for about 15 years since I lived in New York City.
Reading these pieces always gives me this horrible sense of deja vu. They all sound just like the piece that Mike Hicksenbaugh wrote about my sister Megan. They use this same formula every time. Omit half the story, blame the doctor, and don’t ask the family any hard questions. And then cue outrage and fear, and most importantly, all those clicks.
Now, in this story, you put a pretty teenage girl in there, and I think it’s the perfect recipe to go viral. And New York Magazine’s piece, What Happened [00:08:00] to Maya?, that came out in 2022, did just that. And it was one of their most read pieces of the year. And Deanne Neary, who wrote the piece, shopped a book proposal about the, quote, epidemic of false accusations of child abuse based on it.
I don’t know the outcome of that, so we’ll see. The subtitle of this piece tells you everything that you need to know about the angle they’re taking. It says, A ten year old girl complained of mysterious pain. A doctor suspected child abuse. How far would she go to prove it? Not dozens of doctors agreed about a diagnosis and several of them suspected child abuse, which is the reality, but I don’t think that makes as good of a story.
This is such a truly wild way to describe what happened in this case, and right away you know where it’s putting the blame. Right on Dr. Sally Smith. We will include a link to this piece in the show notes, but just to cover a few of the biggest problems with it because there are too many to go into here.
[00:09:00] Um, so first of all, Maya went to see numerous providers from the time of the onset of her alleged symptoms. in July of 2015 and her admission into Johns Hopkins a little over a year later, and most of those providers agreed that she did not show signs of CRPS, and she also got 55 rounds of ketamine infusions from Dr. Hanna during that time. None of these details are mentioned in the New York Magazine piece. There is also no mention of the fact that they were halfway through an active police investigation into Beata’s behavior when she died by suicide. The omission of these two very important pieces of the story make it look as though Dr. Sally Smith was the person who was driving this, was the only doctor who was truly concerned about abuse. They also claim in this piece, which was an inference that was also made in the film, that Maya was released from Johns [00:10:00] Hopkins because Dr. Chopra evaluated her and determined that she really had CRPS.
This is, again, not what happened. She was released after Beata died, and Dr. Chopra didn’t evaluate her until after she was out of the hospital. This was, to me, the most egregious error in the piece when it came to Dr. Sally Smith, where they use a quote from an unrelated expert to intimate that Dr. Sally Smith violated HIPAA.
So here is the quote. Smith’s decision to access Maya’s confidential medical records through the All Children’s Portal on October 8, 2016, appears to have violated the privacy law known as HIPAA. According to Blaise Wabo, a
healthcare compliance expert at a cyber security audit firm. They do mention that Sally Smith disputed that any HIPAA violation had occurred.
So, I have to say Yes, she did dispute it [00:11:00] because she didn’t violate HIPAA and this is just either, again, intentionally manipulative or just unforgivably lazy because they could have done some research rather than just print that this doctor had violated HIPAA. She didn’t. She didn’t violate HIPAA. Here is Dr.
Smith explaining the exact exception to HIPAA that protects her in this case and By the way, none of this is secret information. I was able to find this out on my own long before I talked to Dr. Smith. I tried to present in court that there’s a thing called the TPO exception to HIPAA, which I think they had to put in there.
Especially in today’s world, if you’ve got a case where you need a specialist to help you guide testing you’re going to do or treatment you’re going to do and they have access to this electronic medical record and you can get an answer pretty quickly, they can review things pretty quickly and give a relatively educated recommendation to that, that doctor.
But I think [00:12:00] when they put the HIPAA regulations together, they’re like, oh yeah, we can’t really require that. Before that person can answer a question on the phone from one of their colleagues, we got to go get permission from a parent, sign off on it. And you know what, what hospitals do is they get permission when the person comes in for kind of the whole thing.
Um, we’re going to treat you, you know, we’re going to get information. Um, we may do this, that, or the other thing, including, you know, videotaping your photographs. Yeah, it’s a broad consent that they sign, but this. TPO Exception. So TPO stands for Treatment, Payment, and Healthcare Operations. And it actually is stated on the government website that describes what is HIPAA.
Um, Treatment refers to providing, coordinating, or managing healthcare and related services. It includes consultations between healthcare providers and referring patients to other healthcare providers. So, you know, clearly, why would you [00:13:00] allow that for an active medical staff member to be able to provide, you know, to look at a record or to help with a recommendation?
Um, people who have active medical staff privileges and have access to those records get credentialed by the medical staff office and they get recredentialed
every two years in all children’s case and you have to do the continuing education every year. that gives you the whole thing about HIPAA and privacy.
And, you know, they actually sometimes check on people, you know, to see, Oh, why was that doctor in this person’s chart? And, you know, I mean, you, you are basically agreeing to follow those guidelines. Like, you know, if I have a friend or relative in the hospital, just because I have access to the computer, I don’t go on there and look at their medical record.
Right. I mean, that is inappropriate. Right, that would be inappropriate, right. But if somebody from the hospital is calling me [00:14:00] as a specialty consultant, it clearly is allowed that I look at the records. Yeah, yeah. There’s a common theme to these Dr. Sally Smith stories. Reports that might seem to indicate a pattern of her behavior, if in fact they were true.
There is often, for example, the claim that Dr. Sally Smith didn’t introduce herself and that she only spoke to the parents for a few minutes before making a decision about abuse. And this is an attempt to paint Dr. Sally Smith as a misrepresenting herself to parents and somehow trying to trick them into telling her things that they wouldn’t have otherwise told her.
You know, these claims are really easily debunked. It’s just simply not how she does her job. It’s not how she was trained to do it. There would be repercussions for doing her job this way. And this is work that she’s highly trained to do. You know, the reason that the courts take the word of child abuse pediatricians like Dr.
Sally [00:15:00] to the extent that they even do, is that they are highly trained professionals who do careful exacting work. Now, I will leave some room here for the fact that it may have felt to some of these parents as though Dr. Sally Smith made a snap decision about them, or even that they felt confused about what her exact role was in the midst of a really stressful situation.
But that doesn’t make it true, and if you’re going to claim something as serious as a doctor making a quote, false allegation of abuse, you need something more substantive than someone telling you so. In her USA Today piece, titled Bad Medicine, Daphne Chen claims, quote, There are at least 12 documented cases in which Dr.
Smith identified abuse. Only for the children to be returned to their parents, charges dropped, or DCF to reverse its separation order. So, 12 out of approximately 3, 000 in her career [00:16:00] did not end up in criminal
charges? What is this supposed to be proof of? I mean, Sally Smith is not in charge of DCF, or the police, or any of these proceedings.
She gives a medical evaluation. And Any law enforcement arm in the country would kill for that kind of, you know, those kind of stats in terms of clearing cases. So, Sally Smith’s piece of the work, her medical evaluation, it’s an important piece of an investigation, but it is a piece of an investigation.
It is not enough by itself to convict someone of a crime. That’s why they do. a DCF investigation, and a police investigation alongside that piece of it. So, the idea that she is somehow judge, jury, and executioner in these cases just does not align with reality. And, you know, what’s more, the cases that Daphne Chen refers to, both in her article and the ones that are mentioned in the film, [00:17:00] When you scratch the surface, these do not point to Dr.
Sally Smith making a false allegation, not in the least. And Dr. Sally Smith’s job is to evaluate the medical piece of a child abuse investigation. If she didn’t do that, if she didn’t offer her opinion, which is all she does. She writes a report, she gives that opinion to a judge, it goes from there. If she wasn’t doing that, she wouldn’t be doing her job.
So the Netflix film Take Care of Maya isn’t just claiming to tell the story of one family, the Kowalskis, it zooms out at the end to make It’s broader point that Dr. Sally Smith is tearing families apart with her false allegations of abuse. Here’s Daphne Chen talking in the movie about how she came to the Kowalski story.
In 2019, I was covering child welfare in [00:18:00] Sarasota when I came across the case of the Kowalski family. It just was so tragic, so complicated, and when I learned that Beata Kowalski had actually taken her life, I mean, it just hit me like a wall of bricks. I knew that I had to take the story on, and I knew that I had to get it right.
So, I started digging. Part of my investigation was talking to the Kowalskis. I also interviewed Dr. Sally Smith over the phone to get her side of the story. And Dr. Smith was extremely firm that she had done nothing wrong. But what I found out was that Dr. Smith’s opinions differed a lot from other doctors, including Maya’s care team, Dr.
Kirkpatrick, and Dr. Hannah. Dr. Smith did do a brief interview with Daphne Chen in 2019, but she explained to her that due to HIPAA, she wasn’t at liberty to discuss any details or offer anything that could really clear up the misconceptions about her opinions. So, [00:19:00] as to the quote, differing
opinions in the Maya Kowalski case, we know a lot more about this after the trial and you would think from the way that Daphne Chen frames this that most of the doctors who had treated Maya Kowalski were in agreement that the parents were pursuing the correct treatment plan and that just isn’t true.
If I were to hear this piece of what Daphne Chen is saying without any other information, I would think, oh, wow, okay, this Dr. Sally Smith was a lone ranger in this case. She was the only one who was concerned. But again, there were dozens of medical professionals who’d seen Maya Kowalski before she arrived at Johns Hopkins, and we heard from a lot of them at trial.
And most of what they had to say really backs up what Dr. Smith’s conclusions in this case were. So, As to the treating doctors that had differing opinions, we also now know how far those two doctors, Dr. Hannah and Dr. Kirkpatrick, were [00:20:00] outside of the agreed upon medical consensus for treating CRPS, if in fact that is what Maya Kowalski had.
Namely, that they were administering extraordinarily high doses of ketamine to this child that were 50 to 100 times higher than the recommended dose. And, we know that Dr. Kirkpatrick referred Maya for the ketamine coma treatment in Mexico. a procedure with a 50 percent chance of death mere weeks after diagnosing her.
We also heard from dozens of other doctors and medical staff who treated Maya during this time period, during the trial and in their testimony. And what they had to say supports Dr. Smith’s apparent conclusions about abuse, which, once again, that opinion was suppressed at trial. Daphne Chen goes on in the movie to talk about how she realized she’d stumbled on a much bigger story.
It was January 2019 when I hit publish on that piece about the Kowalski family, [00:21:00] and I kind of thought I’d move on to the next thing. But that was when the calls started coming in, and the emails started coming in, and I realized that this was a lot bigger than just the Kowalskis. I’m sitting at my desk, and I start hearing from more and more families.
People who had gone to the doctor for help for their kids and then became the target of the system. These families walked in hoping for help for their child and some of them walked out in handcuffs. The film goes on to feature rapid fire snippets of a number of parents who claim that Dr. Smith falsely accused them of abuse.
They find broken ribs, they find a brain bleed. They found old, A new brain bleeds. And I was like, what do you mean, like, she has this? I brought her here for bruises. And that’s when I met Sally Smith. When I watched this movie for the first time, it felt like there were so many of [00:22:00] these parents. But when I watched the film again recently, I realized that there were only four of them.
You know, our editor, Kareen, told me the same thing. There’s something about the effect of hearing just all of these short snippets back to back. And I have to believe that wasn’t an accident. And, you know, at the very end of the film, they play clips from about 10 other families that are given with zero context.
They have first names and a tiny soundbite. And presumably these cases are not related to Dr. Smith in any way, but we really have no way of knowing anything about them because they don’t give us any information. The other thing that struck me about the four parents that were more heavily featured in the film was just how little detail the movie gives about each of these four cases.
We hear almost nothing about what happened to the children in question, only how it affected the parents to be accused of abuse. So today, I want to fill in some of those gaps. To give us a better [00:23:00] idea of the process of her work, we spoke to Dr. Sally Smith about how her investigations play out. When you get a call, so like how does the process kind of work maybe from, from the beginning?
Like in Florida, it’s different from some other places, um, in that we have these child protection teams. And every county in Florida is covered by. a child protection team. Some teams cover multiple counties. So the only way to activate a child abuse pediatrician or the other medical providers from a child protection team is through a report to the hotline.
So, I get the impression in a lot of other places that, like, say, at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, they, um, they see a child, they call their faculty, child abuse pediatrician, to come see what they think. Okay. And then, the ones that actually get reported to the child abuse hotline [00:24:00] are, somewhat selected out.
Um, you know, we’re pretty sure about this. The child abuse pediatrician has already waited. But in Florida, um, you can’t get that person to look at things with you until there’s a report to the child abuse hotline. Now, I have always since 1990 been active. medical staff at All Children’s. And I’ve also been the
person they called about child abuse or neglect cases that they were suspecting for 32 years.
I mean, this is back in probably the late 90s. We put together like a table kind of of. These injuries, you always call it in. These injuries are kind of a gray zone. You want to get a social, uh, services, social work services consult and look at other things. And then, you know, if they’re younger, if they’re, um, disabled, things like that, then that middle group also needs to be [00:25:00] called into the hotline.
And then there’s this other side, which is, you know, the single broken bone, the kind of, whatever, some kind of medical, uh, concerns for medical neglect, kids not getting their seizure medication or something, um, that we’re in this category that usually it’s fine, but, you know, you have to kind of look at whether we should report these or not.
And so they, they really do a good job down there of kind of sorting cases that, um, certain types of head injuries, certain types of fractures, um, really young children that, so a non ambulatory child we look at in a different way than, you know, a child, there certainly are, talk about the level of supervision, but there certainly are three and four year olds that have more than one broken bone at a time or you have to consider.
That are not abuse. Right. You have to consider that. Oh, well, yeah, they do have multiple injuries, but they [00:26:00] just had a car crash, you know. So, you’re going to look at what’s the story here. I mean, that would be typically what I would say after I introduce myself to the parent if they were present at the bedside is, tell me about what happened.
And see what they say. It doesn’t match what they told three people so far what happened. And then I’ve always sort of had this idea the devil is in the details with these cases because many times the the people so far haven’t really drilled down to, okay, he fell off the thing. And then was he alert?
Was he interactive? What happened next? Uh, did he take a feeding? Did he not? Was he sleeping? Was he not? Um, what were you observing about the child after whatever happened? And then also, let’s go back to yesterday because One of the big [00:27:00] questions in abusive head trauma, for example, is the who did it thing.
Right. So, If you have a child who’s in the ICU or is dying from a brain injury that has all of the pattern and features of abusive head trauma, that child wasn’t playing, taking normal feedings, interactive, smiling, any of those things after that injury occurred. You don’t have massive brain injury. And then just go about your day.
And you know, 24 hours later, you suddenly decompensate. So it’s also very important with those cases is to figure out when were they normal? And sometimes the families are pretty poor historians. So then you’re even asking, when was the last time? a relative or a babysitter or somebody else in the child’s life saw that child normal.
And then that can kind of help you narrow down, [00:28:00] okay, it was within these four hours. It was within these 18 hours. And depending on a lot of things about Um, you know, once you have a bad brain injury, things happen in the brain that make it worse. Um, cells get damaged, they release chemicals, uh, the brain swells, the skull is a confined space, the circulation is cut off to the brain, and things go south with all that happening.
So, sometimes you can look at. the appearance of the brain on the CAT scanner MRI or the level of various lab tests and things like that where you can see this child was in serious trouble for quite a while. before they got taken for medical attention. So, you know, if you got a child that’s got a skull fracture and there’s some story about the fall or things like [00:29:00] that, you don’t want to be hearing, you know, about some kind of long delay.
before. Symptoms were observed depending on the scenario. Um, you know, typically when their child has something that seems like a serious injury, parents like go to the hospital right away. Yeah. Yeah. You call 9 1 1. Right. Right. And when that’s not happened, then you’re like, Oh, well, I’m going to add that to my list of, of facts that, you know, that I, that I have in this case in interpreting things.
Right. There is a widespread criticism of child abuse pediatricians that these doctors just see abuse everywhere they look, that they have blinders on, but the data does not back this up. A 2022 paper in the journal Child Maltreatment shows that child abuse pediatricians report positive findings of abuse in less than half of the cases they’re called in to evaluate.
Now, just a note that this number certainly varies from state to state, and it’s no doubt a little higher in Florida because in Florida there [00:30:00] has to be an active DCF case in order to bring a child abuse pediatrician in. That’s not true in every state. And, as per the study that we mentioned in the last episode, child
abuse pediatricians are actually less likely than their less specialized colleagues to make a positive determination of abuse.
So, It’s not these doctors job to quote find abuse but to evaluate whether or not there’s evidence of it and also often to try and determine the possible time frame that those injuries happened in. So let’s go through the stories that we hear in the film one by one. I do have public records requests in for all of these cases and the others that Daphne Chen covered in her USA Today piece but here is what I have been able to find thus far.
So first here is a mom called Carly Bryan talking about her story. She started throwing up. Then she started getting little bruises. I’m rushing to the hospital. My attorney advised that it would be safest and [00:31:00] quickest to take the case plan. We don’t hear what happened to this child in the film. But here’s what I was able to find from preliminary record search about this case.
According to the Probable Cause Affidavit, Carly Bryan and her boyfriend, Eric Miller, brought their child to All Children’s in August of 2019 with significant injuries. According to the arrest warrant, the child had indications of abusive head trauma, a significant spiral fracture to her leg, and had bruising on her buttock and arm.
Both parents claimed to have no idea what had happened to the child and also said that they were the only ones who’d been watching the child. They told doctors that they just didn’t realize that these injuries were so serious. The arrest warrant also said that Eric Miller had seven previous felony convictions.
Several months later, the state’s attorney declined to file charges, and again, at this point, I don’t have any information as to why, but I have to say, it’s hard to make sense of the parent’s apparent [00:32:00] narrative here, that they just have no idea what happened that caused these injuries, and in talking to Sally Smith, not about this case specifically, but about how she does her work, and from my own extensive research, I into child abuse cases.
I know that there are any number of reasons that a parent wouldn’t end up being charged with abuse and especially in a case where both parents say they have no idea what happened. The only real option in a lot of those cases is to charge both of them with neglect and I can see why that wouldn’t be an ideal situation.
The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, where this happened, has a clearance rate for violent crimes of 65 percent in 2019. So a clearance rate is determined by measuring the proportion of reported crimes by those that were actually
resolved in some way by an arrest or something else happening like the death of an offender or the victim doesn’t want to cooperate with the investigation.
So it doesn’t actually indicate that there was a conviction. And by the way, that’s about 15 percent better than [00:33:00] Florida as a whole. Again, these are just complex. And to say that lack of charges equals false allegation on the part of a doctor is just completely faulty. And I honestly don’t think most reporters would do it for other similar types of crimes where you have Essentially, a lot of circumstantial evidence, such as rape, where we understand that the instance of it happening is miles away from the conviction rates on the crime.
Next up, we hear from a parent called Ashley Finnegan. We ended up arrested and imprisoned, and my children were in foster care. According to the records that I found, in December of 2017, Ashley brought her then nine week old baby to Venice Hospital. The baby was bleeding from the head and, according to Ashley, This is how this happened.
Her boyfriend, George Glashenko, had discovered a message on Ashley’s phone that made him angry and the two of them got in a fight. He came into the bedroom where Ashley was sitting on the bed [00:34:00] and threw the cell phone down on the bed without realizing that the baby was lying there. And this phone just accidentally hit the baby in the head hard enough to cause these injuries.
No matter how I turn this narrative over in my head, I cannot make it make sense. I mean, I’ve had babies really recently, and I just, how do you not see a baby in the bed? Is this nine week old baby covered up in blankets, which would also make it hard for her to be hit in the head? and also would suffocate her, so presumably not.
Is George Glashenko just the unluckiest person in the world that he A. didn’t see the baby and B. threw it right at her head? It just doesn’t, it doesn’t make any sense. Even though my charges were dropped and I was found of no wrongdoing, I had people messaging me telling me that I should kill myself.
That my children deserve to be in foster care and that they hope that I never got them back. So, [00:35:00] according to the report, Dr. Smith determined that the victim suffered high force trauma to the side of her head that was not consistent with the parent’s story. So George Glashenko was charged with aggravated child abuse and Ashley Finnegan was charged with being an accessory after the fact.
Ashley mentions that the charges against her were dropped, but it’s not mentioned that George Glashenko pled no contest and was found guilty. I’m not saying that no one ever takes a plea deal, or that these cases aren’t complex, but how the filmmakers construed this one as a quote, false allegation, I genuinely have no idea.
So next, we have Viviana Graham, a parent who has made numerous appearances in the media coverage about Sally Smith. She saw us for less than 10 minutes, and then my husband was arrested for aggravated child abuse. According to records, Viviana and her husband Jeremy brought their four month old son in [00:36:00] for seizures in October 2015.
The child was found to have evidence of old and new injuries that indicated abusive head trauma, and Jeremy was subsequently arrested. The parents were separated from their child for about eight months, and from what I can gather from what Viviana Graham has written about this case online. Her and her husband ended up getting custody back after working a case plan with DCF.
The criminal charges against Jeremy were eventually dropped. So, this is one of a number of cases that are featured by Chen in which there is a previous domestic violence charge against the alleged perpetrator, in this case Jeremy Graham. And this charge, the one that I found, comes from his wife, Viviana, in 2010.
Viviana, who’s been extremely active about this case online for years, claimed that Dr. Sally Smith missed an underlying diagnosis in their son that other doctors had confirmed and which explained the seizures that were attributed to abusive head [00:37:00] trauma. And in Mike Hicksenbaugh’s reporting on this case, he mentions that one of the doctors that questioned Dr.
Sally Smith’s findings was a pediatric neurologist. Though this doctor is unnamed in my Kix and Box piece, I was able to find out who it was. This is a Dr. Joseph Scheller, who frequently does expert testimony in cases about abusive head trauma. So notably, his testimony has been excluded in at least three other child abuse cases that I found using the Doebert motion.
So if you’ll remember, we talked about this earlier this season because the plaintiff tried to use this. in the Kowalski case to have Munchausen by proxy excluded. They weren’t successful, but they didn’t end up needing it. But basically, adobert motion is used to exclude expert testimony when it’s determined that that expert testimony is not credible.
Basically, that it’s not based on real science. It would appear from these three motions, which we’ll link to in the show notes, that Dr. [00:38:00] Scheller just doesn’t really believe in abusive head trauma. Here’s a quote included in one of the Doe Bear exclusions. Dr. Scheller testified that he does not believe, despite the overwhelming consensus of medical professionals that, quote, abusive head trauma is a worthwhile or helpful diagnosis in any way.
Quote, abusive head trauma has no medical meaning. But from a public health standpoint, it’s a very good tool to market to the public. You know, what exactly Dr. Scheller believes the product being marketed by abusive head trauma as a diagnosis is unclear. But it’s worth mentioning that this belief makes him one of only 5 percent of the medical establishment that holds the same belief.
Basically, abusive head trauma, which was formerly known as shaken baby syndrome, is a widely, widely accepted condition. So these doctors that do defense work exclusively come up a lot [00:39:00] in these cases and they come up a lot in the media reports and these doctors have rights to their own beliefs and the court makes decisions about whether those beliefs are as credible or more credible than the child abuse pediatrician.
What I have an issue with is that the media presents these reports as equal, and they’re just not. A pediatric neurologist like Scheller, whose opinions on abusive head trauma are way outside of the medical consensus, and a child abuse pediatrician with decades of experience and a board certification in that subspecialty are not the same level of expertise.
Just in the same way that Dr. Sally Smith’s expertise about medical child abuse is not the same as Dr. Kirkpatrick, who, again, is not board certified in anything and runs an all cash pain clinic and doesn’t believe that medical child abuse exists. So to hold those two doctors opinions as though they’re equal is just In [00:40:00] my opinion, anti science.
You’re taking an anti science stance, if you believe that. When things like this happen, when you do have doctors testifying with different opinions, it does make cases complicated. So, in this case, as Dr. Sally Smith was able to confirm, the statewide medical director for the Child Protection Team of Florida, at this time it was a Dr.
Bruce McIntosh, reviewed the case. And He confirmed Dr. Sally Smith’s findings of abusive head trauma. And one more note about Viviana Graham. I want to talk about this Christmas card. Since 2016, I’ve been writing Sally
Smith a Christmas card with our family’s picture on it. So she’s reminded of a family that she tried to break apart.
The way that Viviana describes this in the film, it sounds harmless enough. Like, it’s nice to get a Christmas card. Uh, but I have to say, Viviana herself has posted a couple of these online. And [00:41:00] Dr. Smith shared a few that she’s received over the years. And these are really something. Um, they’re exceptionally nasty.
And I don’t think these resemble what you’d think. You probably write in your Christmas cards. So, in addition to notes telling Sally Smith how wrong and evil she is, Viviana Graham has also included press clippings and, in one case, a collage of Sally Smith’s face over time with this quote. If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face, and when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until you can hardly bear to look at it.
She writes below the face collage, The makeover didn’t fool anyone. Exclamation point. I mean, I think if you look at the parents that want attention, and recognition for being falsely accused. You’re talking about a [00:42:00] specific group of people who are making it very central to their identity. I mean, Viviana Graham has positioned herself as like, you know, she runs the Take Care of Maya Facebook group.
She is saying, I’m out here helping other parents who’ve been falsely accused. And like, That’s the same thing that my sister does. I mean, she’s doing that now. She’s helping a nurse do expert testimony in medical child abuse cases on behalf of the defense. And it’s like, there is something, and I don’t quite know how to articulate it, but there’s something about the way that these people rally around.
a cause and make it a cause. Obviously, if you really have been falsely accused of something, there are people, right, that like were exonerated from crimes and then do Innocence Project work, but that’s not the same thing. This, what they’re doing, it’s not. productive. It’s just nasty. I mean, it’s just like, they’re just going on these rants.
They’re not getting in there to work with DCF to, you know, solve inequities in the [00:43:00] system or whatever. Like, no one who is saying they’re a falsely accused parent loudly in the media or The media people that are covering it, or like Kaitlin Keating or any of these people, they’re not proposing any solutions, right?
And the reason I think they’re not proposing solutions is I suspect what underlies this whole thing is the belief that child protection teams shouldn’t exist. These mechanisms shouldn’t be there to separate children from their parents when they’re being abused. They don’t want abuse investigated.
Period. End of sentence. And If you were advocating for systemic changes, then you wouldn’t be placing it all on a child abuse pediatrician because she is a tiny piece of this whole puzzle and there are, you know, like, there are huge systemic inequities and problems with the way that Child Protective Services and DCF work and these people are not talking about those things.
They are talking about how they have [00:44:00] personally been victimized and that is a different thing. For And, as to why Sally Smith finally wrote Viviana Graham back, it was not some kind of admission of guilt as some have framed it. She just really wanted Viviana Graham to stop sending these notes to her pediatric practice and start sending them to the Department of Health because people doing things like this has really created problems for Dr.
Sally Smith’s coworkers. It’s interesting because they never have called the child protection team to harass them. They always call my private practice that has nothing to do with anything that I did with the child protection team. And, uh, it, it, it was actually a couple years ago that we got, like, thousands of calls at my office.
Um, just people calling in about how can you work with this person? And some of them just literally strings of expletives to the poor receptionist that picked up the phone. Um, [00:45:00] we would have 20 again, just vitriol. At one point, Dr. Sally Smith was working for a clinic that provides free medical care to children in Florida and she had to leave because that clinic was receiving so much harassment.
You know, so not only am I somewhat concerned for my personal safety when people are talking about shooting me and burning my house down and coming to burn the practice down and, you know, things like that, but, you know, all these other people. People are experiencing sort of vicarious PTSD from, you know, the fallout with this.
And, you know, my practice has had to do things to make it look like I don’t work there practically, you know, and things like that to just sort of protect people that are there. The final case presented in the film as a, quote, false accusation is the story of John Stewart. Not, by the way, the beloved late night talk show host, but a former Marine from Manatee County, Florida.[00:46:00]
I spent over 300 days in jail before they finally dropped the charges. They ruined my life because of it. Fifteen month old Nolan Kelly, the son of John Stewart’s then girlfriend, was hospitalized and passed away in December of 2015. The details of what happened to this child are really horrific. Several of Nolan’s ribs had been broken or fractured weeks earlier, and some were likely refractured in the days leading up to his death.
His back was also fractured, and Nolan’s brain was egregiously swollen from acute head trauma, according to the report. This case is extremely complicated. But in my understanding, there were some questions within the medical examiner’s office about timing. For The medical examiner did determine that the child died ultimately from brain trauma and that the manner of death was homicide.
But because of the [00:47:00] nature of the injuries and the number of the injuries, they had some questions about the exact timing of the fatal injury itself. And Additionally, there were some issues with one of the statements made by a witness in this case that mucked up the police’s timeline. And in the end, the state didn’t feel that they had evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Jon Stewart was the only person who could have possibly been with Nolan when the fatal injury occurred.
So, they dropped the charges against him. Listen. If in fact, Stuart was falsely imprisoned for a death that he wasn’t responsible for. I understand why he would be angry. But again, Dr. Sally Smith is not in charge of the police or the courts. She provides a medical evaluation, and again, there’s no evidence that there was anything wrong with her medical evaluation in this case.
Stuart however, definitely appears to [00:48:00] blame Dr. Smith. When she went to testify in the recent Johns Hopkins trial, he showed up in person. And as I was walking towards the door, John Stewart called my name and I turned and, who are you? And he said, I’m John Stewart and then launched into a obscenity laced diatribe and, and essentially it was chasing me into the courthouse.
And he is a former Marine. I’m assuming that he’s He’s, I wouldn’t say he’s huge. I mean, you know, but he’s a man. I’m a woman. Uh, you know, he’s being aggressive. Um, I, I wasn’t terribly scared because there were five officers at the check in for the courthouse, um, and they didn’t really hear, I don’t think, everything, but they kind of saw it in process, especially me kind of hurrying towards the door.
But, you know, there’s a thing called fight or flight reaction, and so, you know, I was, uh, [00:49:00] it certainly got my adrenaline going there. Jon Stewart himself went on TikTok to film the aftermath of this encounter, and that made the rounds on social media during the trial. I’m not a bad father, and I want to let that bitch know that she ruined my fucking life.
And I’m going to protest here and let her know that exactly. And then I’m gonna freaking, then I’m gonna go up to her office on 5th Avenue North and freaking protest out there wherever I’m legally allowed to protest. The whole clip goes on for about 10 minutes. Jon Stewart accuses the cops of being like, quote, Nazis for not arresting her.
And this struck me because it was an image that was evoked by Gregory Anderson, the lead attorney in the Kowalski case, in an early interview. Where he was talking about the hospital just following orders from DCF. being akin to the Nazis. The officer dealing with John Stewart keeps his cool as he continues to escalate.
That’s what’s wrong with the system is that lady’s up there free right [00:50:00] now. I was in jail for a year and on an ankle monitor for a crime I didn’t fucking commit and that cunt gets to fucking run around free. The fuck is that shit? Are you fucking kidding me? I have a master’s degree. I’m a fucking licensed massage therapist.
I’ve done everything to serve this fucking country and the people of this country and that bitch ruined everything that I fucking worked hard for. And I can’t fucking yell at her? Are you It’s unacceptable! Go arrest her! Please! Do an investigation! File a report! Do something! Help the fucking people of this state and protect us like it says on your fucking cop cars!
Serve and protect! Protect us from that evil cunt! Alright. I’m done, thank you. Appreciate your time. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. I’m gonna have a fucking heart attack if I keep going, so Actually, I’m just gonna fucking leave. I’m done [00:51:00] with this shit. I can’t fucking stand it here. That bitch is fucking evil. I don’t think that someone’s prior actions make them guilty in any given situation.
However, in looking into Jon Stewart, I found multiple reports of domestic violence, including one from just last year, a stalking injunction, and shortly after he was released from prison, he was also arrested for assault in 2020 for pulling a very realistic looking BB gun on someone. while he was at work.
So, listen, I don’t know if Jon Stewart killed that little boy or not, but someone did. And while the filmmakers have no problem talking about how alarming Kathy Beatty’s previous arrest for child abuse was, even though charges were never filed in that case, they seem just fine with presenting Jon Stewart as a victim of Dr.
Sally Smith. You know, people sometimes accuse [00:52:00] me of lacking empathy for the parents in these situations. But what I want to ask them is, where is your empathy for the kids? These injuries were not imaginary. Someone hurt the children in these cases. And no one, in these four cases, was ultimately held accountable.
So, we do know that there are inequities and injustices in the child protection system, but these cases are simply not representative of them. So, as a reminder, only 24 percent of family separations in this country happen because of suspected abuse, and this issue disproportionately affects families of color.
And most of the parents that were included in the film, and the parents that are included in these stories generally, are white. Dr. Sally Smith grew up in downtown St. Louis, and as she said, she doesn’t scare easily. But listening to the audio of Jon Stewart sent chills down my spine. His [00:53:00] behavior goes beyond just hateful comments on the internet or even these creepy, nasty Christmas cards.
You know, this is a real, live man with a history of violence against women who is following Dr. Sally Smith around in person. And Netflix just gave him a pass to do it. There was one quote from Dianne Neary’s New York Magazine piece on the Kowalski case that has really lodged itself in my brain since I read it.
This is near the end of the article. Neary is making some guesses about Dr. Sally Smith’s psychology and says, quote, Smith functioned in a world where children’s suffering is common and conditions as outré as Munchausen are real. So I gather that Mary doesn’t think that she also lives in that world. The reality is, we all do.
That is the world. I think you have to begin with a really faulty set of premises that there just aren’t that many abused children out there [00:54:00] or that every single perpetrator of child abuse is held properly accountable in order to make Dr. Sally Smith or any other child abuse pediatrician a villain.
And the people who crafted this narrative, they really needed her to be a villain. You know, I come to this work as a storyteller. As a novelist, I’ve spent my whole career thinking about how do you make a story work? And that’s a question I came into this case with. How do you turn someone like Beata who, you know, when you look at the words that she herself left behind in her emails, in her blogs, and her actions as they were chronicled by the dozens of providers who saw her daughter, She just comes off as such an obvious danger to Maya and her behavior was just so deeply unsettling.
How do you take a person who’s doing these things and make them the hero of this story? How do you make them into a martyr? Well, honestly, [00:55:00] I think it’s a couple of things. Certainly it helps that Beata is not actually here to make things complicated, but I think also you need a really good villain and Kathy Beatty just wasn’t gonna do it.
You know, she’s not powerful enough. But Dr. Sally Smith, I think, was perfect. And it was just a matter of giving her the right edit. So, it was 26 hours of deposition. And keep in mind, if you look at the transcript, you can see either Greg Anderson or Nick Whitney. They had an answer they wanted on tape in mind.
They asked me the same question 10, 15, 20 times. So if you’ve got It was grueling to read. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to sit here. If you’ve got the whole 26 hours of videotape, you can easily find a point where I was answering a question and maybe was a little testy by that time. And, you know, those, those two, um, [00:56:00] I’ve testified either in depositions or court.
with many, many attorneys. Um, those two were far and away the most difficult attorneys I’ve encountered. Nasty, um, you know, really negative towards me and everything. And so, 26 hours later, you got plenty of clips you can pull where I look rather testy. And the one that, or at least one of them that I’ve seen, In the movie or other place online.
What you wouldn’t know from watching this brief clip in the film is that the night before Sally Smith had to testify, she found out that a dear friend of hers had been killed tragically in a car accident. And just crazy circumstances, like, she didn’t have an ID, it took them a couple days to find her next of kin, I mean, you know, it’s just, and I had heard, like, at 8 o’clock the night [00:57:00] before, uh, that she had died.
And, you know, obviously, don’t necessarily sleep that well and everything, and then, I’ve already had, I don’t know how many hours with these guys already, so I know what’s coming, and I told my attorney that, You know, essentially that
had happened and I would, I would try to do my best, but it might be a little bit difficult for me to do the whole eight hours today.
I think that little sequence was about four hours into the, uh, the grilling by Greg Anderson or Nick Whitney, whichever it was that day. Um, in my family, I’m I’m one of seven children, but six are girls. And so, you know, we’re all pretty strong women. And my, my one sister, you know, before I was going to court for this case, she’s like, Sally, be careful of your resting bitch face.
So, and you [00:58:00] know, I’ve had people say over the years, like, you know, I’m just talking about something and I’m kind of, you know, whatever, serious or something. And people like looking at my facial expression thinking I’m mad or thinking and and usually I’m like oh no not at all I’m not sure what my face was doing but that wasn’t it.
In my conversation with Dr. Sally Smith and we shared part of this in the last episode we talked about how she has this very unique ability to compartmentalize and it’s the thing that has allowed her to do this work for decades and that. Part of her is what her son Patrick saw when he looked at the clips from her deposition, but it’s not what other people saw.
Yeah, I think a lot of people have, I’ve actually seen this speculation about, like, clips taken from her deposition where she seems robotic or something, and I mean, it’s weird to see that so prominently displayed when it’s such a tiny part of her day to day life and not a part of her [00:59:00] personality. It’s more that I think you have to have this ability to separate your, the warmth and caring that would motivate you to be a pediatrician, you know, from the job that forces you to face some of the darkest parts of human nature.
People have largely absorbed this story, I think, as entertainment. A Netflix film to get swept up in and forget about. But Dr. Sally Smith is a real person. A doctor with an impressive career, a mother, and a grandmother. And I wanted to get some of that side of her from her son, Patrick. What is your mom like as a grandma?
My mom, um, she restructured her work schedule around being able to spend weekly time with him, which, you know, I’m immensely jealous of in some ways. I live far away from my nephew and I wish I could see him every week, but, [01:00:00] um, gosh, is she. Dedicates herself to these like, you know, elaborate costumes after he watches a Pixar film and wants to play a lead character with, with grandma there to, you know, be the sidekick.
Um, she’s just like sort of effortlessly dedicated to that kid. Kids at that age have this, like, immense energy and fixation on the same topics over and over and over again. And like, she is just sort of tirelessly enthusiastic about all the same things that he’s enthusiastic about. And so, yeah, I mean, it’s really nice to have that reminder of how to be a parent to a young kid when I’m approaching that, you know, stage in my life where We’re hoping to have have kids and so yeah just as a perfect little role model reminder of how you how you do that.
I can just see like on your face when you’re talking about your mom like I think it’s such a gift right to have [01:01:00] parents like that and to be at this stage in your life when you’re becoming a parent yourself or thinking about becoming a parent like that. Dr. Smith’s whole career her whole person essentially got distilled into a couple of brief, unflattering clips that played in this film.
I don’t have the reach of Netflix or New York Magazine, but I take my role as a person with a platform really seriously. I know that I report on incredibly sensitive topics, and I try my best to be mindful and fair. And I think really hard about the unintended consequences that my work might have.
Because this is not my novels, I’m talking about real people in their real lives. And this is why the cynicism of Deanne Meary, Daphne Chen, and Caitlin Keating and the other filmmakers just takes my breath away. They had all the information about Dr. Smith, about what happened in this case, about the substance of these other, quote, false accusations, and this is what they [01:02:00] did with them.
So far, public opinion has been massively in their favor, but I believe that the truth has its own momentum, and I still think it matters. And honestly, I don’t think that history is going to look kindly back on the people who stoked this medical kidnapping moral panic. And if and when the tide ever does turn on them, I sincerely hope that they don’t have to go through what Dr.
Smith’s family has endured. I can’t count how many times I’ve woken up from dreams where either I’m there or someone calls me and tells me that she’s been killed, and I, you know, wake up and throw up, um, you know, like, it’s just things like this where you And again, I want to make clear, like, I’m not minimizing the struggle that I think that Maya and Kyle have been through, like, it’s, [01:03:00] it’s a nightmare that they’ve lived through and mine doesn’t add up to that, you know?
But it, it’s weird to have that sort of just, uh, online mob that takes a certain glee in it. It’s, it’s weird. Just, like, a small twisting of the knife every, every now and
then at an unsuspecting time to the, to the point that, you know, you start to mentally break a bit. You’re like, how long does this go on?
Um, does this ever really end?
Next time, in the final installment of our season finale, we’re going to be talking to Dr. Sally Smith about the settlement that Kowalskis.
Oh, don’t worry. It will be confidential. We’re talking about Greg Anderson. This is not going to stay confidential. So this was, this was not your choice. Oh God, no. I seriously considered refusing to sign.
And we’ll hear much more of her side of the story in that case.
That’s next time on Nobody Should Believe Me. [01:04:00]
Nobody Should Believe Me is a production of Larj Media. Our senior producer is Tina Nole and our editor is Corine Kuehlthau.
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Share this episodeSEASON 03 | EPISODE 13What Now?Just when we thought the endless saga of Kowalski v Johns Hopkins All Childrens was over...it turns out it might only be beginning. In this episode, lead attorney for the Johns Hopkins All Childrens defense...
Share this episodeSEASON 03 | EPISODE 14Media CircusThis week Andrea examines how the harrowing and complex story of the Maya Kowalski case turned into a pop culture moment, and spread dangerous misinformation in the process. We continue our conversation...
Share this episodeSEASON 03 | EPISODE 15The Trials of Dr. Sally Smith (Season Finale: Part 1)In an exclusive interview with Dr. Sally Smith, host Andrea Dunlop travels to Florida to speak to the embattled child abuse pediatrician about her life and work and...
Share this episodeSEASON 03 | EPISODE 17Dangerous Women (Season Finale: Part 3)In the third and final installment of our exclusive interview with Dr. Sally Smith, she shares her side of what happened in the Maya Kowalski case, revealing how perilous Maya’s...