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Ex-jail nurse on trial for alleged sexual abuse of four inmates

Prosecutor: 4 women victims of man’s unlawful behavior

The sex-crimes trial of a former Pima County Jail nurse got under way Wednesday as four former inmates testified he touched their breasts for sexual pleasure during visits to the jail’s medical suite.

The alleged incidents took place in July and August 2007, according to prosecutor Shawn Jensvold.

Christopher Erin Johnson, 26, who no longer works at the jail, is accused of five felony counts of sexual abuse and five felony counts of unlawful sexual conduct.

The prosecutor alleges four women were victims of his unlawful behavior while jailed when he was employed there as a nurse.

Defense attorney Thomas S. Hartzell suggested at least one alleged victim mistook Johnson’s placing “these sticky pads” on her bare chest for an electrocardiogram as sexual contact.

Dorsey Gradis, a registered nurse, said she worked at the jail while Johnson was employed there. She said “there is no reason to touch the nipple or manipulate the breast” while attaching EKG leads to the chest. Leads are normally placed around the breast, she said.

One alleged victim testified Wednesday that Johnson, aware she was jailed on a prostitution charge, asked her if she performed a particular oral sex act well.

She said he placed her hand on his erect penis as she sat on an exam table and, as she was leaving the exam room, held her shoulders and pressed his penis into her back. He was wearing cotton medical scrubs, she said

She said he gave her his phone number and asked for a date.

One woman told jurors Johnson’s pupils became dilated and his breathing changed as he conducted a “breast exam.”

And another witness testified he felt her breast with the palm of one hand and then “flicked my nipple.” She had been seven months pregnant, she said. She also said Johnson told her she had “pretty breasts.”

“I told him he was creeping me out and I pulled down my shirt” and left the exam room, she said.

The former inmate said Johnson told her to lift her shirt so he could place his stethoscope on her bare chest.

All the alleged victims picked Johnson out of a photo lineup provided by detectives.

Hartzell suggested that the complainants – most of them convicted felons, he noted – made up their stories or misunderstood Johnson’s actions during medical exams.

In court documents filed in May 2008, Hartzell stated his client “recently revealed a traumatic head injury in his past which requires an independent evaluation to determine what extent potential brain damage may have contributed to the complained-of behavior.”

Hartzell asked, court records show, that the jury be told before deliberating that legal defenses to a charge of sexual abuse are that the defendant “was not motivated by sexual interest” and the act was done “in furtherance of lawful medical practice.”

The trial is being heard before Pima County Superior Court Judge Jane Eikleberry.

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