Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lesson to Physicians & Health Care Professionals Working In Prisons: Florida Dentist Convicted Of Felony For Having Sexual Relations With Inmate

With health care professionals increasingly chosing to work for correctional institutions, they need to be very careful to follow all rules and regulations of those facilities and to remember the population they are serving some of whom have mental illnesses or psychological disorders.  A recent case is a lesson for all health care professionals working in prisons.

On or about August 12, 2010, Godfrey Onugha, a dentist working at the Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee, was sentenced to five months’ imprisonment, five months of home detention and a $3000 fine for one count of sexual abuse of a ward (or inmate) within a federal prison. Dentist Onugha 50 years old, was sentenced and his guilty plea on May 27 this year.

Dentist Onugha admitted in his plea that in January of this year, he engaged in oral sex with a female inmate in the x-ray room of the dental unit in the prison. The DNA profile developed from a semen sample on the inmate’s shirt matched the DNA profile of the defendant. Dentist Onugha claimed that the encounter was consensual and was initiated by the inmate. The inmate claimed that he forced himself on her. In addition to the prison term, Onugha will also be required to serve a term of five years’ supervised release following his release from custody. 

Attorney Commentary: This offense used to be a misdemeanor but in the past five years the laws have changed.  Even consensual sexual contact between staff and inmates, which previously was punished as a misdemeanor, has been reclassified as a felony and the maximum penalty for that offense is 15 years (where it used to be 1 year). 

I worked on a case 15 years ago where an inmate initiated sexual contact in order to obtain preferential treatment and then filed a civil rights lawsuit claiming there was sexual assault. In this dentist's case, after the conviction he will have consequences to his license which could include loss of the license depending on the state. 

In addition, the health care professional needs to remember that the patients will be viewed as vulnerable given the fact they are in prison. Cases involving sex with a patient are taken very seriously by the various Boards.

Posted by Tracy Green, Esq. Please email Ms. Green at tgreen@greenassoc.com or call her at 213-233-2260 to schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation or to discuss this post.  

The firm focuses its practice on the representation of licensed professionals, individuals and businesses in civil, business, administrative and criminal proceedings. They have a specialty in representing licensed providers and in investigations and criminal matters in California and throughout the country. Our website is: http://www.greenassoc.com/


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