Originally created 11/29/00

Hospital sex assault trial opens



AIKEN - An Aiken County woman testified Tuesday that a hospital technician posing as a doctor sexually assaulted her in 1997 while she was medicated in the emergency room at Aiken Regional Medical Centers.

The trial of Andre D. Tufts began Tuesday in an Aiken courtroom, where the jury will decide whether there is sufficient evidence to convict him of third-degree criminal sexual conduct. Mr. Tufts has pleaded not guilty. He faces a 10-year jail term if convicted.

Shan White, 29, had gone to the Aiken hospital March 18, 1997, because she was suffering from back pain. After she was given drugs to help ease the pain, Ms. White said, a nurse left her alone with Mr. Tufts, who was a newly hired orthopedic technician.

Dressed in hospital gear and wearing a hospital badge, Mr. Tufts said he was an orthopedic doctor and needed to check the woman out, the woman testified. Shortly after he began his physical exam, the defendant put his hands in her panties and penetrated her with his fingers, she said.

The woman said she "jumped back" and asked what he was doing.

"He said, `Just relax. I'm a doctor. I've got it all under control,"' Ms. White testified Tuesday as she fought back tears.

Ms. White immediately complained to a nurse, but Mr. Tufts contended the woman was hallucinating from the medication, she said.

Another witness, hospital employee Tony Welch, later testified that he saw Mr. Tufts washing his hands in a sixth-floor bathroom, a location "far removed from his work area."

The trial resumes this morning. Mr. Tufts is expected to testify during the defense phase.

After Mr. Tufts' arrest in 1997, it was revealed that he was charged with a similar crime while working at University Hospital in Augusta in 1995. That charge was dismissed when the victim died of unrelated causes.

Since then, Ms. White has sued Aiken Regional for negligent hiring. The hospital settled the suit for an undisclosed sum, according to 2nd Circuit Solicitor Barbara R. Morgan.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (803) 279-6895.