Christy Duncan was stunned when Columbus police investigators told her that a chiropractor who groped her in a sexual manner during nearly a dozen visits to his Clintonville office was likely to face only misdemeanor charges for his actions.
"I was like, 'Are you kidding me?'" she recalled.
Her disbelief turned to outrage when she learned that, after being charged with 66 misdemeanor counts of sexual imposition involving 22 victims, Ryan D. Smith faced a maximum penalty of just 18 months in jail.
"That was devastating," she said. "That's not even one month for each of my charges."
Duncan, a 48-year-old Worthington resident, is among those who have begun advocating for a change in Ohio law that would turn such conduct by chiropractors into a felony offense.
Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein, whose office prosecuted Smith, said the case "exposed a deficiency in Ohio law" that needs to be corrected by state legislators.
"When you realize that the most he could get was 18 months, I thought that was an absurd sentence, considering the gross sexual misconduct that he engaged in," Klein said.
In each case, Smith required the clients to strip down and wear a gown, then groped their bare breasts and manipulated their arms so that their hands would touch his genitals, said Joseph Gibson, the city's deputy chief prosecutor. Smith sometimes convinced patients who came in with complaints about headaches or lower-body injuries that they had shoulder problems and then fondled their breasts during procedures, Gibson said.
Smith, who has permanently surrendered his chiropractic license, pleaded no contest last month to all counts. Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Mark Hummer sentenced him to 60 consecutive weekends in the county jail, a total of 180 days, and placed him on probation for five years, saying that would allow him to monitor Smith's behavior.
Klein, whose office asked for the maximum, criticized the sentence. He has reached out to state Sen. Stephanie Kunze, a Hilliard Republican, and state Rep. Kristin Boggs, a Columbus Democrat, and said both are supportive of a bipartisan effort to make felony charges possible for chiropractors who take advantage of patients the way Smith did.
Kunze said a misdemeanor sentence "certainly is not sufficient for a chiropractor who has done this over a long period of time with so many victims. ... Hopefully, no one thinks that's acceptable behavior or an appropriate punishment."
Exactly how the law might be changed is unclear.
Klein and others have mentioned that chiropractors are not included in Ohio's sexual battery statute. That law covers teachers, administrators, coaches, scout leaders, clerics and mental health professionals, making it a felony for them to engage in sexual conduct under certain conditions with those in their instruction or care.
However, what Smith was accused of doing to nearly two dozen female patients does not fall under the definition of "sexual conduct," which includes sexual intercourse and oral sex.
Nicholas Strata, executive director of the Ohio Chiropractic Association, said his organization would support including chiropractors in the sexual battery statute. "I was a bit surprised that we weren't included," he said.
Another option to be explored, Klein said, is to see whether acts such as those committed by Smith could be made to qualify as gross sexual imposition, a third- or fourth-degree felony, when they involve a chiropractor and patient.
Klein said one advantage of filing felony charges is that sentences for each victim can be run consecutively, unlike the limitations on misdemeanor sentences.
Christy Duncan is one victim who would welcome that change if it can apply in the future to chiropractors who offend against multiple patients.
"I won't rest until this is changed," she said. "I can't imagine anyone who has watched this play out and is in a position to change the law wouldn't have an interest in making it better."