Originally created 11/30/00

Jury finds man guilty of assault



AIKEN - Calling it the most atrocious violation of hospital-patient trust, a judge Wednesday sentenced a former employee of Aiken Regional Medical Centers to six years in prison for sexually assaulting a heavily sedated woman in the emergency room.

The decision by Circuit Judge John Few came minutes after a nine-man, three-woman jury returned a guilty verdict against Andre D. Tufts, a former orthopedic technician who posed as a doctor and committed sexual battery on patient Shan White during a supposed examination.

The jury's verdict wrapped up a two-day trial, in which Ms. White testified that a trip to the emergency room turned into a nightmare in 1997. Ms. White, 29, was suffering from back pain, and a nurse gave her a shot and two pills to ease her suffering. The drugs made her drowsy, but she was awake, she said.

Mr. Tufts, claiming he was an orthopedic surgeon who needed to conduct an exam, then put his hand into the patient's panties and penetrated her with his fingers, Ms. White said. After the assault, she said she immediately told a nurse about the incident.

A hospital employee testified that he saw Mr. Tufts washing his hands in the sixth-floor bathroom, an area far away from the technician's work area.

Mr. Tufts took the stand Wednesday and denied the sexual assault took place. He said he was walking around helping patients and had a brief discussion with Ms. White. Mr. Tufts first heard of the allegation when he was wheeling Ms. White out of the hospital, he said.

"I was shocked," the defendant said about the charge. "I was out of breath. I felt like a ton of bricks hit me. I didn't know what to say."

After the allegation was made, the technician was paged and left to help someone with a cast, he said. Then he headed to the sixth floor to talk to someone in human resources about how to handle the woman's claims. But Mr. Tufts said he stopped to use the bathroom, explaining his reason for washing his hands.

Before he reached the human resources department, he got another page to return to the emergency department.

On cross examination, 2nd Circuit Solicitor Barbara R. Morgan questioned Mr. Tufts about his denials.

"I did not touch her, ma'am," Mr. Tufts said. "I never told her I was a doctor."

In closing arguments, Public Defender Regina Poteat called the allegations a "he said-she said" incident.

"All this goes to prove my theory that all it takes is just 30 seconds to a minute alone with someone to be without a job, picking up your last paycheck and talking to an investigator," Ms. Poteat said.

The defense attorney suggested Ms. White was more concerned about calling an attorney than the police, suggesting the woman concocted the allegation for monetary gain.

In the solicitor's closing, she told the jury Mr. Tufts was obviously guilty because he ran to the sixth-floor bathroom to scrub away the evidence.

"This is a woman who went to a hospital ... and she was perhaps in the most vulnerable position," Ms. Morgan said. "That is what makes it so outrageous."

After the guilty verdict was announced, Ms. White addressed the judge, asking for the maximum sentence.

"I would just like him to know that these type of things - it does something to a person," she said. "My life will never be the same."

Outside court, Ms. White said she has undergone counseling to overcome the assault. She expressed thanks to the Aiken Department of Public Safety, the solicitor's office and two victim assistants for helping her.

Ms. White settled a lawsuit she brought against Aiken Regional Medical Centers for its negligent hiring of Mr. Tufts.

He had faced a similar charge in 1995 for an incident at University Hospital in Augusta, but the charge was dismissed when that patient died from unrelated causes.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (803) 279-6895.