This story details allegations of sexual assault.
In June 2022, Yanett Bernal walked into the police station in Provo, Utah, to report that her OB-GYN had sexually assaulted her. She said after making a written statement she told a detective over the phone how David Broadbent conducted painful vaginal and rectal exams during her last pregnancy.
A month later, Bernal went back to the station to ask for a copy of her report. A worker at the reception desk told her that a report didn’t exist, she recalled.
“They said they had nothing,” she said, “and didn’t tell me I should do it again or anything.” What they did tell her, she said, is that she should call a number to speak with someone in Spanish and to wait for a detective to call her back.
Another month went by, and still Bernal hadn’t heard from the detective.
So Bernal turned to an independent victim advocate named Gloria Arredondo. She had been fielding similar questions from women who, like Bernal, were having difficulties making reports about Broadbent to Provo’s Police Department or accessing their records. All were native Spanish speakers from Mexico. Some told her it was hard to get someone at the department to take their cases seriously or even to call them back.
Arredondo suggested that Bernal and others visit the Mexican Consulate, an hour away in Salt Lake City, for help.
Arredondo, who has worked with Latino victims of crimes since 2012, said this was the first time she’s involved a consulate in order to get a callback from the police.
“It’s been very frustrating to see them not be able to make a report,” she added. “For me, it was common sense that you went to the police, they took your report and started to work on it.”
The consulate confirmed that at least two women did go to its offices “looking for support” and that it called the detective in charge in August to ask for an update on the case. The goal, said Maria Fernanda Gomez Contreras, head of the consulate’s office of protection, was “to ensure that the women are being heard and that they deserve the same treatment as anyone else.”
Bernal, who did go to the consulate, is one of 49 women who went to Provo police over the last nearly two years to report that Broadbent sexually abused them. Utah County prosecutors are considering charges in some of the cases but have not decided whether to criminally charge the doctor. He has agreed to stop practicing medicine while this police investigation is ongoing. As part of a separate civil case, Broadbent’s attorneys have said sexual assault allegations against him were “without merit”; the doctor did not respond to a request for comment, sent through his lawyer, about this case.
In March, 20 Mexican immigrants filed a civil lawsuit against two hospitals where Broadbent worked, saying that they knew of his alleged misconduct and failed to act. (Attorneys for the two hospital systems have asked a judge to dismiss the suit, arguing that Broadbent’s alleged actions against these women didn’t take place on their premises. One of the hospitals, MountainStar, also said in a statement it was not aware of complaints being made to the hospital itself, that Broadbent is not and was not a hospital employee, and that he doesn’t have privileges there now.)
The Salt Lake Tribune and ProPublica interviewed 14 of those women who, between March 2022 and April 2023, went to the police station to allege that he inappropriately touched their breasts, vaginas and rectums during exams — often without warning or explanation, and in ways that hurt them and made them feel violated.
The interviews by the two news organizations also reveal that many of these women faced delays, language issues and insensitive interviews when they went to the police. Of the 14, five said police turned them away at least once.
Getting the Mexican Consulate involved appeared to have worked for Bernal: She said soon after, she heard back from a detective regarding her case.
“That was when they changed here,” Bernal said. “They changed and they listened to us.”
Provo police Capt. Brian Taylor did not address the women's complaints, saying he couldn’t publicly discuss case specifics. He said the department “systematically collected interviews and presented reports to the Utah County Attorney’s Office.”
“Reporting sexual abuse is a deeply personal decision,” he added. “We honor victims who come forward and encourage people to do so.”
Over the last year, The Tribune and ProPublica have investigated obstacles that Utahns face when seeking justice against medical providers who they say sexually assaulted them. A February article detailed how a different group of women similarly accused Broadbent of sexual misconduct and sought justice in civil court — just to have a judge dismiss their case, ruling that it fell under medical malpractice law instead of a civil sexual assault claim. The women have appealed the ruling to the Utah Supreme Court, which is considering the case.
An August investigation by the news organizations showed how patients of a Utah County therapist had reported alleged inappropriate touching to both state licensers and local leaders within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; neither group reported the therapist to law enforcement. Both said they take allegations of sexual assault seriously and indicated that they had addressed the complaints through their own processes.
But Bernal and these other women did go to the police. And they’re still waiting to see if anything comes of their efforts.
“He Said the Doctor Was Doing His Job”
From the beginning, some of the 14 women we interviewed said their efforts to give statements about Broadbent to the police were stymied. Body-camera footage shows that in at least two cases, police officers took initial information in a hallway — sitting on a bench under the station’s public “Wall of Honor” in the police lobby, where photos of fallen officers are displayed — rather than a private interview room.
A staff victim advocate accompanied the officer as each case was discussed out in the open. Taylor said officers taking initial reports will move an alleged victim to a more private area, he said, if there are people in the police lobby. It is not clear from body-camera footage whether there were others in the hall during the interviews, but in one instance, audio on the video picks up others passing by and talking within earshot of the woman sharing her complaint with the officer. Arredondo, who accompanied one of the women, said the hallway felt like an unusual place to ask the women to share.
“I worried about their privacy,” she said.
The first detective on the case was Kevin Fernandez, who joined the Provo Police Department in 2018 after becoming a sworn officer. Fernandez’s family comes from Mexico City, according to a 2020 Daily Herald article, and he grew up in Southern California. The detective speaks Spanish, and the Police Department said he has conducted more than 300 investigations as a Special Victims Unit detective in his six years with the force. The Tribune and ProPublica did not speak to Fernandez directly, but Taylor said the detective was consulted in response to questions sent to the department.
In the first six months of the investigation, Fernandez was the assigned officer in 30 reports involving Broadbent.
Maria Eduviges Bernal, who is Yanett’s aunt and also reported Broadbent to the police, remembers that she struggled to detail to Fernandez how Broadbent touched her vagina in ways that felt inappropriate during 2018 appointments. After providing her statement, Eduviges Bernal said Fernandez concluded that her doctor hadn’t done anything criminal.
“He didn’t see it as a crime,” she said he told her. “He said the doctor was doing his job.”
In his summary notes, Fernandez expanded on this assessment:
“I advised that there is no way to prove there was any sexual intent or gratification on behalf of the doctor. The doctor had a legitimate reason for having his hands on and in the patients [redacted]. The doctor did not do any inappropriate movements that would show any sexual intent. I advised [redacted] of how the interaction does not meet the elements of a crime and that this case would be closed. [redacted] advised she understood and is glad this is being documented.”
This immediate conclusion stunned and broke her morale, Eduviges Bernal said. Not usually an outspoken person, she said she was intent on filing the report — if only for her records and so that other women in her family, including her daughter, might avoid future harm.
“You go [to the police] because you think they’re going to help you or they’re going to give you attention,” Eduviges Bernal said. “I wasn’t expecting for him to have an opinion.”
Deciding before an investigation whether a crime took place is discouraged by The International Association of Chiefs of Police sex assault investigation guidelines. So is including an opinion in a written police report.
“Every effort should be made to exclude officer opinion in the written report and to avoid asking leading questions,” the IACP guidelines recommend.
Taylor did not respond to a question asking if Fernandez should have offered his conclusion that there was no way to prove sexual intent in Eduviges Bernal’s case.
In January, civil attorneys representing some of the women became concerned about the detective’s investigative methods. A year had gone by since some of their clients reported Broadbent to police, and Fernandez had still not gotten their clients’ medical records.
Attorneys Eric Nielson and Marianne Card sent a request to prosecutors asking that the police assign a new detective. That did happen, though Taylor said the new detective was assigned in order to balance the workload as she transitioned into the Special Victims Unit.
Card said that once the new detective was assigned, most of her clients were interviewed again.
According to RAINN, a national anti-sexual-violence organization, trained law enforcement teams should work together to “reduce repetition of questions and interviews.” These re-interviews also seem to go against Provo’s own best practices; Taylor said detectives “work to minimize the number of times a victim has to make a disclosure." Any re-interviews in this case, Taylor said, were done at the request of the civil attorneys. Nielson, however, said he believed the re-interviews were a “tacit admission” from police that the investigation wasn’t done properly the first time.
Martha Santacruz, one of the 14 who spoke to The Tribune and ProPublica, said she had a positive experience making a report with Fernandez but found being re-interviewed and reviewing her evidence this past April difficult.
“I felt very bad because it is a very hard thing to relive. ... I kept thinking what happened with the other report that we already had?” Santacruz said. “I don’t know what he did. I don’t know what happened.”
“Highly Deficient” Language Services
As low-wage immigrant workers and mothers, going to law enforcement to accuse an American doctor of sexual assault was an unprecedented experience for all. And one of the major issues they encountered was finding an officer who could understand Spanish.
Some of the women told The Tribune and ProPublica they were turned away because no one was available at the department who could speak Spanish. Others were met with delays: In one police report, it was noted that a woman called the department because she had been told a Spanish-speaking detective would contact her, but she had been waiting for four days and hadn’t heard back.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah this summer labeled the Provo Police Department’s policies for language access as among the worst in the state, calling its language services policies to non-English speakers “highly deficient.”
The nonprofit examined police policy manuals throughout Utah and noted that Provo does not have a formal written policy addressing access to language services. The city was one of four Utah municipalities to receive a “highly deficient” rating.
Utah led the nation in population growth over the previous decade, according to the 2020 census, becoming less white and homogenous. A quarter of Provo’s population of nearly 115,000 people speak a language other than English in their homes, according to the Census Bureau’s most recent American Community Survey. Latinos now make up almost 18% of the population, and Spanish is the most common language after English.
“Language access isn’t a privilege, it’s a right,” said Andrea Daniela Jimenez Flores, immigrants’ rights policy analyst for the ACLU of Utah. “Utah’s laws and policies have to reflect that reality and ensure that no one’s denied justice, dignity or well-being because of the languages they do or don’t speak.”
Some of the women who reported Broadbent told The Tribune and ProPublica that they relied on a volunteer interpreter or a family member when they spoke to police. One woman said on at least one occasion she relied on a cousin to translate for her — an issue of general concern to the ACLU of Utah.
The nonprofit noted in its report that the Provo Police Department doesn’t use authorized interpreters and instead relies on Spanish-speaking officers or on other community resources, such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Missionary Training Center.
When asked how often this happens in Provo police investigations, Taylor said that using family members to interpret for alleged victims is “a problem.”
“If a family member is used or, even worse, a child, they are also victimized,” he said. “Also, validity of statements is called into question when impartiality of translators cannot be assured.”
Taylor said the police have a “patchwork” of language services and are not staffed 24 hours a day with Spanish-speaking personnel. While there are 21 officers who speak Spanish to some degree, Taylor said, the department doesn’t know how many of its officers would test as proficient in the language.
Taylor said the department agrees with the findings in the ACLU report, adding that limited English proficiency shouldn’t be a barrier.
“We are reviewing our practices,” he said, “comparing them to the recommendations of the ACLU report and reviewing possible policy improvements.”
Even after interventions by lawyers, an advocate and the consulate, the language barriers and delays have continued. In April, when Bereniz Robles walked into the Police Department, it took her three attempts before anyone would take her report about Broadbent.
Each time Robles went to the police station, she said, she was told there was no one working who spoke Spanish. Robles said she was told she could come back later or call at a different time.
She was eventually able to make an early morning appointment in April. Accompanied by Arredondo, the victim advocate, she arrived at the scheduled time — but the doors were locked and they had to wait a half hour before someone let them in.
Robles, who saw Broadbent as a patient more than a decade and a half ago, said she was motivated to make a report in order to keep the doctor from practicing again. But she said there were many moments, including that morning, when she considered giving up.
“There is no point in talking if they are not going to pay attention to you,” she said. “It was one of the moments that I was very discouraged.” She said that while the report she gave accurately captured her experience with Broadbent, the process to get it done left her feeling “worthless.”
Utah County Attorney Jeff Gray said in a November interview that his office is reviewing the cases as a whole and hoped to make a decision on charges by the end of the year. However, on Friday, he said that after consulting with a medical expert, prosecutors determined more follow-up interviews were needed.
But Nielson, one of the civil attorneys, is frustrated and has twice sent letters urging Gray to prosecute the case — drawing parallels to other cases like former Columbia University OB-GYN Robert Hadden and former USA Gymnastics Coach Larry Nassar, both serving prison time for sexually assaulting their patients during exams.
Gray pushed back. “We will file charges, or make a determination on filing charges, when our investigation is complete — no sooner and no later,” the county attorney said.
Almost two years after she reported to the police, Maria Gaspar, one of the 14 interviewed, said she still fears not being believed as an immigrant woman who is publicly calling out an alleged sex assault.
And she said her four daughters are her motivation to get through the denials and delays.
“I’m still afraid,” she said, “but at the same time it gives me strength because I say I have to teach them something good, not to keep quiet here or in Mexico.”