Former Casper Doctor Faces Trial For Alleged Sexual Assaults Of Patients
A former Casper doctor charged with sexually assaulting six local women patients was bound over to Natrona County District Court for trial.
Natrona County Circuit Court Judge Michael Patchen ruled Paul Michael Harnetty will face 10 of 12 original charges after a two-hour preliminary hearing on Thursday.
Patchen dismissed two counts of alleged third-degree sexual assault because Assistant District Attorney Brett Johnson did not present enough probable cause that Harnetty committed those crimes.
If convicted on all counts Harnetty could face between 18 years and 195 years of imprisonment.
Johnson called the state's only witness, Casper Police Detective Sara Nelson, to testify about the six women who claimed Harnetty abused his authority as a obstetrician/gynecologist while he was examining them.
The case started in October 2015 when a now retired Casper Police detective received a report of three women who claimed Harnetty conducted himself inappropriately in during their verbal and physical examinations.
Nelson recounted the stories of the alleged victims, some of whom came forward after seeing posts on local social media, she said.
Interviewees described their experiences as being uncomfortable, scared, and “freaked me out.”
Some patients said he would ask about their sexual behavior, and asked one for naked pictures and video. He asked about having three-way sex with some, and he had an affair with one. He paid one woman for sex.
Some asked friends if Harnetty's behavior was normal practice, Nelson said.
Under cross examination, defense attorney John Miner asked Nelson if some of Harnetty's touching was just part of normal examination.
Nelson, under further questioning by Johnson, said the alleged victims said the touching was less about professional medical conduct than sexual caressing.
During his closing argument, Miner said the district attorney's office is unfairly targeting Harnetty, Miner said. "You are being set up by a great sleight of hand by the DA's office."
The district attorney is counting on the judge to consider a doctor an authority in cases of sexual assault, but that's not what the law says, Miner said.
Wyoming law specifies "position in authority" as "a parent, guardian, relative, household member, teacher, employer, custodian or any other person who, by reason of his position, is able to exercise significant influence over a person."
"Doctor" is not one of them, Miner said.
Those in authority who inflict sexual intrusion also "causes submission" of the victim, he said.
Harnetty didn't exercise authority over the alleged victims, nor did he order them around or exercise influence over them.
Johnson responded by saying Wyoming law is inclusive about the meaning of exercising authority, and Harnetty abused his.
Harnetty was the only choice some of the alleged victims had because of their economic status, and many of the other obstetricians/gynecologists in Casper weren't taking new cases, Johnson said. "They had no where else to go."
A jury should decide whether his behavior was appropriate, he added.
Patchen said a woman during a gynecological exam is on her back with her feet in stirrups has little recourse.
"For purposes of probable cause, the doctor and defendant is in a position of authority," he said.
The district court will set a date for Harnetty's arraignment.