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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Van Patten cleared of all sex charges

A jury acquitted a Spokane man Friday of charges that he sexually molested three women while working as an unlicensed physical therapist.

Another jury rejected three other sex charges, involving a fourth woman, earlier this year.

Earl L. Van Patten, 68, was arrested in December 2002 when a 41-year-old patient complained that Van Patten kissed and fondled her, raped her with his finger and told her not to tell anyone.

Four other women subsequently filed complaints that Van Patten took indecent liberties while treating them in the Spokane Valley offices of Dr. Merle Janes, a pain specialist.

Van Patten was charged with one count of second-degree rape, three counts of indecent liberties and one count of intimidating a witness with regard to the first alleged victim – all felonies.

He also was charged with one count of practicing without a license, a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. Van Patten pleaded guilty to that charge in March, and is to be sentenced Sept. 17 by Spokane County Superior Court Judge Robert Austin.

Also in March, a jury acquitted Van Patten of all the charges related to the first alleged victim. Those counts sprang from several therapy sessions over a three-month period in 2002.

Charges involving the other four alleged victims were set aside for a trial that began Monday, but one count was dropped when one of the women said she no longer wanted to testify.

A jury began deliberating on the remaining three charges Thursday morning, and handed up a not-guilty verdict on all counts Friday morning.

“I believe that all this began with one lady purposefully exaggerating and falsifying what had taken place in the exam room,” defense attorney Bevan Maxey said.

He blamed “power of suggestion” for the subsequent allegations, citing a sheriff’s news release “encouraging others to come forward.”

The women who accused Van Patten after his arrest told authorities he touched their buttocks and breasts.

“I’m pleased that the jury in the most recent case took the time to closely evaluate the evidence and to conclude that the state had not proved that any of this touching was inappropriate or for sexual purposes,” Maxey said.

Van Patten did not testify at either trial.

The state Board of Physical Therapy indefinitely suspended Van Patten’s license in July 1997 for what the board said was a sexual relationship he improperly initiated with a patient.

The board fined Van Patten $5,000 and ordered him to get counseling. It also barred him from applying for restoration of his license for five years.

Van Patten’s license was still suspended when he began working in Dr. Janes’ office in 2002 – about the same time the alleged rape victim said Janes referred her to Van Patten.

Before his suspension, Van Patten had operated his own practice, Van Patten & Associates, in north Spokane. He had been a physical therapist since 1961.