A patient of a former Casper gynecologist told jurors Monday that he sexually assaulted her during a medical exam.
The testimony came during the first day of Paul Harnetty’s trial in Natrona County District Court. He is facing 10 felonies: eight counts of second-degree sexual assault and two counts of third-degree sexual assault.
Six female patients are expected to testify 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 that Harnetty’s exams were different from those they had experienced by other doctors. 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.
On Monday, the first alleged victim to testify said the exam was unlike any she had experienced before.
“I couldn’t figure out why he was touching me there,” she said.
Don Fuller, Harnetty’s attorney, said during cross-examination that the woman’s initial statement to detectives was inconsistent with what she later told investigators and how she described the alleged assault on the stand.
Lawyers spent the first morning of the trial picking a jury and launched into nearly two hours of opening statements after a lunch break.
Prosecutor Mike Schafer spoke quietly as he said the defendant used his medical practice to prey on women. Schafer told jurors Harnetty used his power as a doctor to take advantage of his patients, most of whom Schafer said had no other options for medical treatment due to their insurance carriers.
“The defendant had total control over his patients during those examinations and was exploiting them sexually,” Schafer said.
When women complained to people who worked at the clinic, those complaints went nowhere, the prosecutor said. One of the customer service representatives was also a patient of Harnetty’s, leaving her “conflicted,” Schafer said. He said the representative properly reported the alleged assault, however.
Fuller spoke next, asking the jury to consider each of the 10 charges on its individual merits, as the law requires. The defense attorney said shoddy police work had resulted in the railroading of his client. The first detective assigned to the case, who later left the department, was conducting a “witch hunt” by asking alleged victims to look for other women who were saying they had been assaulted by the doctor, Fuller said.
Fuller played a series of short audio clips in which the detective could be heard saying he needed more alleged victims in order to bring a case against the doctor. The defense attorney also showed medical training videos that he said demonstrated Harnetty was using proper procedure when examining the alleged victims.
A police detective was the first to testify. Detective Mitch Baker described how he had taken photos of exam rooms in Harnetty’s clinic.
After the detective’s roughly 12 minutes of testimony, the alleged victim took the stand. While sniffling, she described an exam that she said left her in shock. She said a nurse was in the room for the first part of the exam, but later left her alone with Harnetty. She then described in detail how Harnetty had touched her genitals in ways that she said weren’t usual for a gynecological exam.
“I asked myself, ‘what ... just happened?’” she said.
Under cross-examination, the woman said she had been served a restraining order after posting to social media saying Harnetty had assaulted her.
The woman described the alleged assault to a friend, who testified about the conversation. Fuller opposed allowing the woman to take the stand, but Judge Thomas Sullins said her testimony would be allowed because Fuller had called the woman’s credibility into question. The friend said the alleged victim described an exam that did “not seem normal.”
Harnetty is no longer licensed to practice medicine in Wyoming, having voluntarily relinquished his Wyoming physician license in October 2016, after the state medical board began an investigation against him for wrongful practice.
The trial is scheduled to last through Friday.