Casper Couple Sues Federal Government for Hire of Ob-Gyn Convicted of Sexual Assault
A Casper woman and her husband are suing the federal government for $2.5 million for its failure to oversee a former Casper doctor who allegedly sexually assaulted her while she was in his care at the federally funded Community Health Centers of Central Wyoming, according to court records.
"As a result of her assault, Ms. [Tosha] Blackburn required hospitalization, medication, EMDR, and extensive therapy and counseling to treat the physical, mental and emotional injuries inflicted by CHCCW, Nurse [Priscilla] Martinez, and Dr. [Paul] Harnetty, and has incurred substantial costs for these treatments," according to the lawsuit filed by her attorney Jeremy Hugus of Casper.
"Ms. Blackburn's injuries are serious and permanent," according to the lawsuit. Hugus did not return a call seeking comment.
Blackburn is demanding $2 million in damages to cover for physical, mental, emotional and other injuries; past and future medical, mental and noneconomic damages; and punitive damages.
Her husband, Josh, also is demanding $500,000 for injuries including loss of consortium and loss of income.
The lawsuit's causes of action are negligent hiring, negligent training, negligent supervision of Harnetty and Martinez, negligent performance, assault and battery, and negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The lawsuit is filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which makes the United States liable for all negligent acts or failures to act committed by the Community Health Centers of Central Wyoming, according to the lawsuit.
The Wyoming U.S. Attorney's Office did not have any comment at this time, spokesman Mark Trimble said.
K2 Radio normally does not name victims of sexual assault, but Blackburn said she agreed to be named because she is a plaintiff.
Harnetty was convicted by a jury in Natrona County District Court in January 2018 of two counts of second-degree sexual assault committed against two different patients and acquitted him on five other counts. The jury did not find Harnetty guilty of assaulting Blackburn.
Four months later, Judge Thomas Sullins sentenced Harnetty to 20 to 30 years in prison, plus a concurrent sentence for attempted illegal possession of a steroid.
Earlier this year, the Wyoming Supreme Court upheld the conviction.
In the lawsuit, Blackburn recounted Harnetty's history as a student and physician including "improprieties relating to members of the opposite sex" at three hospitals, and multiple allegations by nurses when he worked at a hospital in Macon, Ga.
Despite this public history, the Community Health Centers of Central Wyoming failed to investigate his background before hiring him as an obstetrician/gynecologist, according to the lawsuit.
The center received complaints in 2014 and 2015 before his alleged assault on her, the lawsuit said. "Dr. Harnetty was not investigated, suspended or terminated but instead was allowed to continue seeing patients as usual following these formal complaints."
When Harnetty met Blackburn for an appointment on Sept. 11, 2015, the nurse who was supposed to be present at the exam was not attendant, according to the lawsuit. Harnetty's comments and behavior were inappropriate, and she filed a complaint with the Casper Police Department.
Five other female patients also came forward with stories of his alleged sexual assaults.