LIMA — The Third District Court of Appeals on Monday issued a ruling overturning the conviction of a Bluffton doctor last year in Lima Municipal Court.
The opinion, written by Judge William Zimmerman and supported by Judges Stephen Shaw and John Willamowski, orders the conviction by a jury of James Gideon be set aside and that the case be returned to the lower court.
Gideon, a rheumatology and internal medicine physician, was found guilty by a Lima jury in April 2018 on three counts of sexual imposition, third-degree felonies, for allegedly groping female patients. Three additional sexual imposition charges, each based on similar complaints from other female patients, were dismissed by prosecutors just before the case went to trial.
The alleged acts took place in the spring and summer of 2017.
Gideon was sentenced by Judge Tammie Hursh to 180 days in the Allen County jail. He was also classified as a Tier I sex offender.
That conviction was overturned by the appellate court based primarily on the rejection by the municipal court judge of a motion by Gideon’s attorney to suppress oral and written statements the physician made to investigator Chad Yoakam of the State Medical Board during the case.
Gideon requested the statements be suppressed because they were involuntary and in violation of his right to due process and the privilege against self- incrimination. The trial court determined that Gideon “made voluntary statements during a non-custodial interview” and denied the motion to suppress his statements.
Acknowledging that Bluffton Police Department Sgt. Tyler Hochstetler and Yoakam agreed to cooperate with each other by trading information during the course of their investigations, the appeals court judges concluded Yoakam “exceeded statutorily permissible collaboration by taking demonstrable steps to coerce Gideon to provide him an incriminating, oral and written statement in reliance on Gideon’s duty to cooperate. In other words, Investigator Yoakam was posing as a ‘straw man’ to effectuate law enforcement’s criminal investigation.”
The judges also said Gideon and Yoakam “possessed an implicit, trust-like relationship and that Yoakam exploited that relationship to satisfy his ulterior motive of coercing Gideon into making statements against his interest for law enforcement to ultimately obtain a criminal conviction against him.
“We conclude that, based on the facts and circumstances presented by this case, Investigator Yoakam’s actions created an impression that Gideon’s refusal to cooperate with his investigation would result in the type of penalty prohibited under (existing case law). Therefore, Gideon’s belief that his medical license would be penalized if he did not cooperate with Investigator Yoakam’s investigation was objectively reasonable. Thus, Gideon’s statements were not voluntary.”
Gideon still faces civil lawsuits from a dozen women, all of whom allege they were groped by the physician during office visits.