Paul Harnetty

Paul Harnetty makes his initial appearance in Natrona County Circuit Court on Friday afternoon in Casper. Harnetty, a former Casper OB-GYN, was arrested in Minnesota on allegations of sexually assaulting female patients while practicing in Casper.

Dan Cepeda, Star-Tribune

A former Casper doctor arrested last month in Minnesota based on allegations he sexually assaulted six female patients faced formal charges Friday in a Natrona County courtroom.

Prosecutors charged Paul Harnetty, 47, with nine counts of second-degree sexual assault, three counts of third-degree sexual assault and one count of attempted possession of a controlled substance. He waived the formal reading of most of them during his initial hearing in Natrona County Circuit Court.

The six women told investigators that Harnetty touched them during physical examinations in ways that were unusual and made them feel uncomfortable. The women, who did not know each other previously, said they had been examined by other doctors before but Harnetty’s exams were different. Some women said he touched their genitals without gloves while others said he rubbed them in ways that didn’t seem to be part of a medical exam, according to court documents.

Harnetty is also accused of attempted drug possession. In April, he allegedly attempted to buy 3.6 grams of Nandolone, a synthetic steroid that is also listed as a controlled substance, from a business in China, according to court documents.

Minnesota law enforcement arrested the doctor on Jan. 20 and booked him into jail in Hennepin County on a Natrona County warrant. He was then extradited to Casper to face the charges. A judge set Harnetty’s bond Friday at $50,000 and gave him permission to return to Minnesota, where he now lives, and Florida, where he has family.

If convicted, Harnetty could receive up to 20 years for each count of second-degree sexual assault and up to 15 years in prison for each count of third-degree sexual assault.

Harnetty specialized in obstetrics and gynecology and previously worked at the Community Health Centers of Central Wyoming and had medical privileges with the Wyoming Medical Center, documents from the Wyoming Board of Medicine show. He stopped practicing at Community Health Centers in October 2015 and resigned his privileges at the medical center in November 2015.

The investigation

Casper police began investigating the doctor in October 2015, according to court documents. A detective interviewed three former patients who said Harnetty had inappropriately touched or spoken to them during examinations in 2014 and 2015. All three said they “felt violated in a sexual way,” according to the documents. Three more women later came forward with similar reports.

When that detective retired, the case was assigned to another detective, who had been assisting in the investigation. Natrona County District Attorney Mike Blonigen requested the new lead detective re-interview all the alleged victims and medical staff. According to court documents, it appears the detective had trouble contacting a few of the women to interview them again.

The first woman interviewed by police said Harnetty initially examined her in September 2015. She said he touched her genitals and anus in “an unusual manner” and that “no other doctor ever touched her the way Harnetty had,” according to the documents. She said a nurse was in the room at the time, but was sitting far away. She said Harnetty never explained what he was doing while he examined her.

The woman posted a video to Facebook stating Harnetty sexually assaulted her because she “just wanted other girls to know that if there was something unusual that happened, it wasn’t ok and that there was help,” the documents state. The woman told police that multiple women contacted her via Facebook to say they also had issues with the doctor, though she didn’t know whether any of those women ever reported their allegations to police.

Four other women in later interviews said Harnetty touched them in a way that made them uncomfortable, documents continued. One woman said he examined her breasts without wearing gloves and another said he didn’t use gloves while he touched her genitals and that he repeatedly touched the same area and asked the same questions. One woman said she could smell alcohol on his breath during two exams. Nurses were always in the rooms at the start of the exams, the women said, but either appeared to not pay attention or left the room at some point during the appointment.

Another former patient told police that she and Harnetty had consensual sex at least one time, but that the doctor continued to make sexual advances and touch her inappropriately even after she asked to return to a strictly professional patient-doctor relationship. When the two were alone in an exam room, she said Harnetty would try to kiss her, grab her breasts or try to touch her genitals, even after she told him not to, according to the documents.

The woman tried to find another doctor, but was unable to, she told police. She repeatedly told detectives that she was nervous Harnetty would retaliate against her or threaten her.

During his initial appearance in court Friday, Harnetty did not say anything other than answer the judge’s straightforward questions.

Harnetty filed a request for an order of protection in February 2016 against the woman who posted a video to Facebook saying he sexually assaulted her. In his request, Harnetty wrote that he had been “subjected to repeated allegations of criminal conduct in my medical practice,” the documents show. He said the woman posted in Casper Classifieds, a Facebook group, that he had done inappropriate things to his patients, including her. He said that the woman also posted a video saying he sexually assaulted her.

“I have been subjected to ridicule and emotional distress and have been unable to find work after these allegations caused me to be no longer employed,” he wrote in his petition. “I can state without equivocation none of what (the woman) says about me is true. If this harassment is allowed to continue I will continue to suffer substantial emotional distress.”

Minnesota law enforcement arrested Harnetty on Jan. 20 on a Natrona County warrant that had been issued about a week before. Sometime between April and September, Harnetty moved to Maple Grove, a city about 20 minutes from downtown Minneapolis. Court documents alleged he fled Wyoming to avoid prosecution. The Natrona County District Attorney’s Office then had him extradited to Casper.

History of complaints

Harnetty voluntarily relinquished his Wyoming physician’s license in October after the state medical board began an investigation into alleged “wrongful practice,” according to the board’s website.

One of the complaints involved Harnetty’s arrest by Casper police on Feb. 5, 2015. Harnetty was the OB-GYN on call that night for the Wyoming Medical Center, but had been drinking in his home, the medical board documents show. At one point during the night, Harnetty banged on his neighbors’ door with a baseball bat because he thought they were being too loud. Casper police arrested the doctor on suspicion of public intoxication.

After he was released from jail, Harnetty took a leave of absence from the Wyoming Medical Center, according to the board documents. The hospital was already investigating the doctor at the time of his arrest, the documents state.

Harnetty continued to see patients during his leave of absence from the hospital. However, he neglected to tell at least one patient that he would not be able to deliver her baby due to the leave of absence, the documents allege. The woman delivered her baby with a different doctor instead of the doctor the patient had come to know throughout her pregnancy.

Harnetty applied to have his privileges reinstated at Wyoming Medical Center after his leave of absence. When the hospital denied his request, he filed a lawsuit.

In his suit, Harnetty claimed hospital administrators violated hospital bylaws when they denied the reinstatement. The suit was dismissed after the parties reached an agreement, court documents show.

Kodi Merschat, director of development at Community Health Centers of Central Wyoming, previously said in an email that the health care facility follows the credentialing and privileging policies set by the Wyoming Medical Center. The facility uses three national databases to review a doctor’s history, she said.

“CHCCW does its best to vet employees and providers to ensure patients receive quality healthcare in a safe environment,” Merschat wrote in the email.

But Harnetty was also investigated by the Georgia Composite Medical Board in 2010 while he was working at a hospital in Macon, Georgia. Two of his patients filed complaints alleging the doctor didn’t tell them he couldn’t deliver their babies because he didn’t have the right hospital privileges until late in their pregnancies, according to The Macon Telegraph. It is unclear how the complaints were resolved — the medical board website does not list any disciplinary actions.

He also settled a medical malpractice lawsuit in 2010 for $1 million, according to the Georgia medical board. No other details about the suit were immediately available.

It appears his Georgia physician’s license is still active, though it expires on Feb. 28.

Harnetty graduated from medical school at the University of South Florida. He then trained in Baltimore, Las Vegas and Chicago. He also previously served in the U.S. Army.

Follow crime and courts reporter Elise Schmelzer on Twitter @eliseschmelzer

 

 

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Elise Schmelzer joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 after graduating from the University of Missouri and interning at newspapers around the country. As features editor, she oversees arts and culture coverage and reports stories on a broad variety of topics.

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