Sexual Assault Trial Of Former Casper Doctor Begins
A former Casper doctor charged with 10 counts of sexual assault went on trial in Natrona County District Court on Monday.
This week, the eight women, six man jury (including two alternates) will hear the testimonies of six women who claim Paul Harnetty abused his position to inappropriately examine them.
Harnetty, an obstetrician/gynecologist, is charged with eight counts of second-degree sexual assault and two counts of third-degree sexual assault. If convicted on all counts he could face between 16 and 190 years of imprisonment.
The case began in October 2015 when police received a report of three women who claimed Harnetty conducted himself inappropriately during their verbal and physical examinations. Over the next year, three more women reported such conduct according to the charging documents filed in January 2017. Harnetty was arrested in Minnesota that month.
In his opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Mike Schafer posed this question: "If you can't trust your doctor, who can you trust?"
The first rule of the Hippocratic Oath, Schafer added, is "do no harm."
An obstetrician/gynecologist has the license to touch the genitals, and the victims went to him at the Community Health Centers of Central Wyoming, 5000 Blackmore Road, and trusted him to act professionally, to conduct tests properly and to see if their babies were healthy, he said.
Three of the six women recognized Harnetty acted wrongly and never went back after their first visit, Schafer said.
But three others who were violated did not return because they had no other options and were desperate for care, and Harnetty was among the few ob/gyns who accepted Medicaid, he said.
Some of them filed complaints about his behavior, but they went nowhere, Schafer said.
The exam rooms, shown in photos taken by a Casper Police detective, had medical assistants, but they often did not pay close attention to what Harnetty was doing, he said.
The jury would be hearing from the victims, and Schafer outlined what happened to them. All were touched in ways they believed were inappropriate; one reported Harnetty did not use gloves; one smelled alcohol on his breath during an exam; one sent him a photo of her one-year-old child, and he responded by asking if she would like to participate in a three-way sexual encounter.
Harnetty sometimes had no medical reason to do what he did, and sometimes his conduct wasn't about medicine but to sexually arouse patients, Schafer said.
"He had control over patients," he said. "The defendant had no boundaries."
But Harnetty's lead defense attorney Don Fuller said doctors fear this kind of case.
"Doctors think they're doing a proper procedure and are second-guessed, and often get sued," Fuller said.
An ob/gyn has to touch genitals as part of an exam, just like a podiatrist has to touch feet. Sometimes that touching is uncomfortable but necessary, he said.
Fuller excoriated the Casper Police Department's investigation, focusing on detective Gary Kassay who persuaded some women patients of Harnetty, who initially did not believe they had been assaulted, that that was in fact what happened.
"This is how stuff turns into a witch hunt," he said.
Kassay, Fuller added, is a crime writer whose protagonist, Duke Becker, says in one novel that he gives false information to the media.
The detective also urged alleged victims to have other women call him, because only one or two wouldn't be enough to successfully prosecute a case, he said. "Kassay thinks if they have a group of them, (a jury) will convict."
One woman who will testify said if the Community Health Center had responded to her complaint the matter would have ended there and not in court, Fuller added.
He said Harnetty grew up in Minnesota, was an Army Ranger, has been licensed in several states, is among the few doctors who would take Medicaid patients, and is the father of four children.
"Now his life is on the line," Fuller said. "It is your duty (as a jury) to protect Paul as a citizen of the Constitution."
The trial resumes at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.