If they weren’t doctors, some sex abusers might be facing police

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Former San Diego dental assistant Luis Ramos, 36, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for groping and fondling women while they were under anesthesia. KGTV 10 NEWS

One woman said she woke up during surgery and found Luis Ramos touching her chest. He told her he was just cleaning up blood.

Former San Diego dental assistant Luis Ramos, 36, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for groping and fondling women while they were under anesthesia. KGTV 10 NEWS

Former San Diego dental assistant Luis Ramos, 36, was sentenced Friday to 15 years in prison for groping and fondling women while they were under anesthesia. KGTV 10 NEWS

Another woman said when she went home after surgery, she found a post-it note in her pocket with Ramos’ name and phone number on it, put there while she was under anesthesia.

San Diego police reviewed 500 hours of security footage and charged Ramos with touching 13 women’s breasts, genitals, groins and buttocks while they were unconscious. On Friday, a judge sentenced him to 15 years in prison for charges including sexual penetration and sexual battery of a medically incapacitated person.

If justice was swift in the case, it had partly to do with how Ramos had access to patients.

He was a technician in a dental office, not a medical doctor.

Had he been a doctor who did the same thing to vulnerable patients, his consequences might have been different. His case might have been handed as a licensure matter, with state medical regulators treating him as an impaired professional in need of therapy, such as yoga, massages and horseback riding. Criminal prosecutors might never have received the case.

A national investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution into doctors and sex abuse uncovered a stark disparity: In most walks of life, a person who gropes or fondles women may face a police interrogation and a judge and could have his mug shot posted on his state’s sex offender registry.

For doctors, not necessarily.

Take Washington state, where a state trooper spent 17 months in jail for pulling over women drivers and groping them under their clothes while he pretended to frisk them.

But after Washington anesthesiologist John G. Thomas admitted to touching the breasts of more than a dozen women while they were unconscious, the medical commission took away his license but didn’t report him to prosecutors until after the AJC inquired about the case.

In Nebraska, a woman accused a Nebraska Cornhuskers lineman of reaching under her dress in a crowded bar and fondling her. He spent six months fighting a sex assault charge before a jury acquitted him, for lack of witnesses.

Illustration by Richard Watkins

Illustration by Richard Watkins

That same year, Nebraska doctor William K. Stetson didn’t contest allegations by his state’s medical board that for eight years he had improperly touched women’s breasts and genital areas. The town’s police department and the county prosecutor’s office say they never received the case.

A 21-year-old Georgia man was sentenced to 30 days in jail and three years’ probation after he pulled down a woman’s top outside one Dalton store and grabbed a woman’s breast outside another.

But after patients accused Gwinnett County internist Vincent K. Knight of sexually inappropriate exams, the Georgia medical board mandated therapy and work restrictions, including using chaperones with female patients.

“I’m thinking that they feel if they put all these barriers in place, that if I have a tendency to do that, that by being monitored and whatever, then it won’t happen again,” Knight told the AJC.

The latest installment of the AJC’s ongoing investigation reveals how gaps in the system allow abusive doctors to avoid the criminal justice system. In most states, medical regulators aren’t required to report potentially criminal acts by doctors to law enforcement. But even agencies that are legally required have held back information from police, the AJC found.

“Doctors in our culture appear to have a special class of protection against bad behavior,” said Lisa McGiffert, manager of the Safe Patient Project for the advocacy group Consumers Union. “Most doctors don’t do this, but the few that do are allowed to get away with it for some reason.”

Follow the AJC’s investigation here.

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