August 24, 2018 / 8:26 PM / a month ago

UPDATE 4-U.S. health agency's ex-director charged with groping woman

(Updates with Frieden’s court appearance)

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK, Aug 24 (Reuters) - A former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who helped contain the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, was arrested and charged with sexual abuse on Friday after being accused of groping a woman last year.

A 55-year-old woman filed a complaint in July against Thomas Frieden, who once served as the city’s health commissioner, accusing him of grabbing her buttocks without permission last October at his Brooklyn apartment, said New York City Police Department spokeswoman Arlene Muniz. The woman’s name was not divulged.

Frieden, 57, turned himself in to a Brooklyn police station, Muniz said, and he was arrested on misdemeanor charges of sexual abuse, forcible touching and harassment.

He appeared in front of Judge Michael Yavinsky in New York City Criminal Court in Brooklyn on Friday afternoon and pleaded not guilty to the charges, his lawyer Laura Brevetti said. He was released on his own recognizance.

Frieden is next due in court on Oct. 11, according to court staff. Brevetti, reached by telephone, declined further comment.

A number of prominent men in business, entertainment, and the media in the United States have been accused of sexual misconduct in the past year in what has become known as the #MeToo movement.

As head of the country’s main public health agency, Frieden played a prominent role in helping respond to the outbreaks of Ebola in West Africa in 2014 and Zika fever that began in Brazil in 2015. He appeared frequently on cable news channels to explain the CDC’s initiatives to staunch the crises.

As New York City’s health commissioner from 2002 to 2009, he oversaw efforts to ban smoking in public places. In 2009, President Barack Obama named him to lead the CDC. He stepped down in 2017.

Afterwards, Frieden became the president of Resolve to Save Lives, an effort by the non-profit health organization Vital Strategies to improve public health systems around the world. Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have funded the program.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the charity run by Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, said in a statement that the organization was “disturbed and saddened” by the charges.

“At the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, we take any allegation of personal misconduct very seriously and are monitoring the situation closely,” the statement said.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also said it took allegations of sexual misconduct very seriously. (Reporting by Jonathan Allen Editing by Frances Kerry, Toni Reinhold)

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