A state licensing board revoked the license Saturday of a Keokuk chiropractor accused of inappropriately touching more than a half-dozen women during appointments, and a letter issued by the board detailed the evidence against him.
Andrew Kearse was charged with simple assault in August after a patient claimed she was groped in an exam room. A jury found Kearse not guilty in February, but the separate investigation by the Iowa Board of Chiropractic continued to look into claims made by multiple patients about sexual misconduct.
In December 2015, the board charged Kearse with one count of unethical conduct or practice harmful or detrimental to the public and one count of unethical conduct by having improper sexual contact with, or making suggestive, lewd, lascivious or improper remarks or advances to a patient. The charges came with an emergency order that prevented Kearse from practicing until the final decision was made.
A letter dated July 13 laid out the evidence that led to its decision to revoke Kearse's license. The following statements are according to the letter:
Kearse, who graduated from Logan College of Chiropractic in April 2011, was issued license number 007454 in August 2011. In October of that year, he opened Kearse Chiropractic & Sports Rehab in Keokuk. While he sometimes had a receptionist, he was often the only person at the clinic, which had an entry door off a common hallway, a reception area, a treatment room, a massage room and a third room adjacent to the treatment room. There was a bed in the third room, and he often stayed there after separating from his wife in 2014.
Since March 2014, seven of Kearse's female patients told Keokuk police Kearse touched them inappropriately or made inappropriate comments during their appointments. Five of them testified before the board at a hearing.
"The reports of these seven women concerning Respondent's actions are very similar," the letter stated. "There is no evidence that any of the women knew each other prior to going to the police."
The first woman, Patient #6, had several appointments a week for the first month. She was always fully clothed when Kearse adjusted her hips and neck. But on her second to the last visit, she says Kearse asked her to undress and gave her a gown to wear. On her last visit, Kearse told her to take off her sweat shirt, t-shirt and tank top, but waited until she was undressed to offer her a gown. She told him it "was a little late for that." As she sat at the end of the treatment table, Kearse sat behind her, straddling the table between his legs. He unhooked her bra and she crossed her arms to hold it up . But during the adjustments, Kearse put his hand up under her bra and touched her. He had never touched the front of her body during treatments before.
Kearse told her he wanted to get off the doctor-patient level and on to friend-to-friend. She gave him a dirty look and he told her he better not because she probably wouldn't come back. As she was making her next appointment, Kearse told her that her fiancee is a lucky man.
She skipped the next appointment and had someone call and tell Kearse she was sick. Kearse sent her a Facebook request, which she didn't accept. While she told police she did not want to file criminal charges, an officer told her she could file a complaint against Kearse's license on the Department of Health's website.
The second woman to come forward was Patient #1. She went to Kearse in June 2015 for treatment of migraine headaches and neck pain. She had two appointments. During the first, Kearse adjusted her while she was fully dressed on a treatment table. Kearse told her he was going to give her a massage to loosen her muscles and asked her to change into a gown. After changing, she sat on the end of the table while Kearse sat behind her, straddling the table. After massaging her neck and back, Kearse reached around her and twisted her back and grazed the bottom of her chest. She thought it was an accident.
At her second appointment, Patient #1 got the same adjustments, but when Kearse told her he wanted to give her a massage, he didn't have any gowns. He told her he'd just gotten divorced and his wife usually took care of everything. So she decided to use her shirt to cover herself. As she sat on the end of the table, Kearse sat behind her, straddling the table. She moved to the edge. While massaging her, Kearse put his hands under her buttocks and pulled her towards him. She scooted forward, but he pulled her back again. She says she could feel the inside of his thighs and could tell he was aroused.
She told police she didn't know what to do, so she just went along with it for fear of what he might do. Kearse asked her to move to another exam room. He asked her to remove her pants and gave her a blanket to cover up with. Kearse asked her to lie on her back and he massaged her. After having her turn back over on her stomach, he put his hands in her underwear and let his body touch hers inappropriately. She told police he told her "If you were mine, I wouldn't let you leave my bed for week."
She told him she had to leave right away. He asked her not to tell anyone because he could get into trouble. As she was leaving, he grabbed the exit door handle, and she said it looked like he was unlocking the door.
She called her husband right away and told him what happened. He told her to go to police.
Patient #3 filed her report in August 2015. she told police she was wearing leggings and a knit tank top during her appointment, and Kearse pulled her shirt up without asking her. During the appointment, Kearse asked her if she had ever had a breast augmentation. He then told her to take everything off on top and get into a gown. He asked her to sit at the end of the exam table and he straddled the table behind her and rubbed her back for a long time with lotion. He told her he was divorced. She held her arms close to her sides so Kearse couldn't bring his hands forward. Kearse told her to relax her muscles and that she'd need to come back three times a week.
When she came back for her second appointment, she told Kearse she had to make it quick so she could get back to work. She called him later that day to cancel her appointment for the next day. He called her back 13 minutes later and again an hour and a half after that, asking her to reschedule. She didn't, and went to police.
Kearse admitted he had asked Patient #3 if she'd had a breast augmentation, but said he had a legitimate chiropractic reason for the question. He admitted to calling her about the missed appointments, but denied touching her inappropriately.
Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Agent Ryan Herman and Keokuk Police Detective Steve Dray interviewed Kearse Aug. 18, 2015 at his clinic. He was living there at the time. Herman told Kearse they'd gotten several complaints about inappropriate touching and inappropriate sexual contact from his patients. Kearse admitted he touched Patient #1's breasts sexually, and not for chiropractic purpose. He told them he'd recently gotten divorced and was depressed. He said he "just got carried away," and that he always asked his patients if they were comfortable and that he thought Patient #1 wanted the physical attention.
Kearse was arrested later that day and criminally charged with simple misdemeanor assault of Patient #1.
That's when more patients came forward.
Patient #2 came forward in August, saying she went to Kearse three or four times. She wore a gown in her initial visits, but on her last, Kearse told her to take her shirt off and told her he'd bring her a gown, but came back saying they were all dirty. He told her the receptionist wasn't in and he didn't know where the gowns were. He told her she could put her shirt over her chest and he would work on her back muscles.
Kearse had her sit on the table, and he sat behind her, straddling the table. She told police she felt like Kearse was trying to get under her bra to touch her, but she kept squeezing her arms down so he couldn't get to them. He started massaging her with lotion, and when he stood up, she could tell he was aroused. When Kearse left to help someone who walked in the door, she quickly got dressed and left. She didn't come back for her follow up appointment, and Kearse contacted her on Facebook.
Another woman, Patient #5, came forward the same day, telling police she'd been a patient for a while, and had 25 to 30 appointments between November 2013 and March 2015. She said the appointments were usually after 5 p.m., when no one else was there. She said she first got uncomfortable when Kearse straddled her knee and his privates rubbed against her leg while he was stretching out her arm and leg. She gave him the benefit of the doubt, thinking it may have been an accident. But at her next appointment, Kearse asked her to take off her tank top while he was working on her shoulder. Then at the appointment after that, he asked if he could unhook her bra. She said she reluctantly agreed, but held it up over her chest. Kearse straddled her from behind and put his hand on her chest. He asked her to take her bra off and told her he wasn't shy. But she told him she was shy. Kearse was sitting close behind her and she could feel he was aroused. She says he began massaging her bare chest. She never went back.
Patient #4 went to police in August 2015 after seeing the accusations on the news, and also testified at the hearing. She had four appointments with Kearse in July 2013. She says at her first appointment, Kearse asked her to remove her shirt and bra and gave her a massage while sitting close behind her, straddling the table. She said his hand was very close to her chest, but he'd never touched it.
At her second appointment, she told Kearse that had made her uncomfortable and he apologized and told her to let him know if she was ever uncomfortable. She said when she told Kearse she was going to be a drug counselor, he told her that he was a sex addict. After she missed her next appointment, Kearse called her and offered to do a house call.
Patient #7 told police in August, that she'd had two appointments with Kearse a year earlier, but she skipped the second appointment. She told police she was alone with Kearse during her appointment and that he sat close behind her straddling the table she was sitting on. She told officers Kearse's hands went up under her shirt and bra and touched her chest. He also stood in front of her, massaging her shoulders, and his crotch was uncomfortably close to her face. When she skipped her next appointment, Kearse called her at least two or three times and left her two voicemails. She never got a bill for her appointments.
In September, The Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals Investigator Troy Wolff interviewed Kearse at the clinic. Kearse told Wolff he and Patient #1 were attracted to each other. He told Wolff he massaged her legs, inner thighs, buttocks and chest and that he assumed she was fine with it since she didn't stop him. He admitted it was unethical and inappropriate.
Kearse also told Wolff he "was in a bad place" and had been drinking and sleeping with lots of women, engaging in consensual sex acts with other patients in the office during appointments and after hours. He admitted he pushed the boundary with other patients in the past, that he regretted it and that if he hadn't been caught, he would probably still be doing the same things.
At the hearing with the board, Kearse admitted to touching Patient #1 inappropriately and without chiropractic purpose, and admitted to making inappropriate sexual comments to her. He said he felt his conversation with Patient #1 led him to believe she was consenting to the intimate contact.
Kearse also admitted acting unprofessionally towards Patient #6 when he told her he found her attractive and that he wanted to get off the professional level with her. He told them he was attracted to her and wanted a personal relationship with her, but denied touching her chest. He said her body language told him she wasn't okay with what he said to her, and admitted he sent her a message asking to be friends on Facebook.
Kearse told Wolff he had consensual sexual contact with around five patients in the room adjacent to his treatment room, where he had a bed.
Kearse denied touching patients #2, #3, #4, #5 or #7 inappropriately, and he denied inappropriate sexual comments to them. He admitted he didn't always tell patients where he would be putting his hands and testified he might have accidentally touched their chests. He also admitted he didn't always have clean gowns available for the female patients.
Kearse closed his office at the end of March or beginning of April 2016, because he couldn't afford to keep it open without seeing female patients.
Kearse said in his testimony that he had personal issues after his divorce starting in the winter 2014, which contributed to his poor decisions. He said he had a counseling session, but couldn't afford the fee, and then sought free counseling through a church.
Licensed Chiropractor David Guehring, director of the Palmer College of Chiropractic Rehabilitation Department, said he didn't find anything in the patients' records that would have warranted touching their chests. He said there were also no entries in their records showing they had been treated with massage. He said there is no legitimate chiropractic purpose he knows of to massage a woman's breasts. He testified a chiropractor should explain the treatment to the patient and get consent before touching any part of their body.
University of Iowa Rape Victim Advocacy Program Executive Director Adam Robinson testified the victims of sexual trauma have a wide range of responses. While some might fight back or run, he said others may not leave, and might even come back.
The board stated Kearse did, in fact, engage in unethical conduct or practice harmful or detrimental to the public.
The board ordered Kearse's license be revoked for at least 10 years. The board also stated he would have to complete a board-approved professional boundaries evaluation and comply with any recommended treatment, and pass an essay exam from the Ethics and Boundaries Assessment Services. Kearse also has to pay a $75 disciplinary fee, $440 court reporter fee and $4,405.93 witness fees and expenses. Kearse was ordered to pay the $4,920.93 in fees within 90 days.