Thursday, February 27, 2020

Witnesses say Michigan State medical resident sexually assaulted them

January 15, 2019
<p>Michael Phinn, an MSU medical resident, walks out of the court on a recess during a preliminary hearing at 54B District Court on Jan. 15, 2019. Phinn faces 14 charges relating to sexual assault including one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.</p>

Michael Phinn, an MSU medical resident, walks out of the court on a recess during a preliminary hearing at 54B District Court on Jan. 15, 2019. Phinn faces 14 charges relating to sexual assault including one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Photo by Anntaninna Biondo | The State News

Editor's note: This article contains descriptions of sexually explicit actions. 

Two witnesses spoke about their experiences of sexual harassment at the hands of Michigan State medical resident Michael Phinn. On several occasions Phinn allegedly masturbated in front of them, sent photos of his penis and groped them.

The preliminary hearing took place Tuesday in 54B District Court in East Lansing where Judge Richard Ball heard the witnesses — who both worked at the MSU Clinical Center with Phinn — talk about their experiences with Phinn. Ball denied bond for Phinn.

Phinn is accused of sending women texts containing photos of his penis and forcing women to watch him masturbate. He is charged with 14 counts regarding allegations of sexual assault committed at the MSU Clinical Center, including:

  • One count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.
  • Five counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct.
  • One count of assault with intent to commit sexual contact.
  • Two counts of gross indecency.
  • Four counts of aggravated indecent exposure.
  • One count indecent exposure

Phinn still retains medical license, according to the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, or LARA. No formal complaints are documented to date.

Phinn's defense showed the first witness their text correspondence on the MSU HealthTeam portal with Phinn. This platform, referred to as "Athena," allows doctors to communicate with patients, staff to staff, but also has a chat option.

In one text conversation on Athena, Phinn told the witness he had been checking out her butt. The witness said she knew he had been looking.

"You're welcome, glad I could brighten your day," said the witness in text.

On one occasion, Phinn called the witness into an exam room adjacent to her office for help on an order and when she walked in his pants were down.

The witness said Phinn masturbated in front of her, finishing onto the exam table.

When the witness attempted to get a lock for the door that connected her office to the exam room, she said her supervisor said it was unnecessary and she should put a file cabinet in front of the door, which she did.

According to the witness, the harassment continued. Phinn allegedly tried to isolate her, wanting her to go on walks with him. She said she tried to "blow him off."

Between August and September 2018, Phinn attempted to force his hand down her pants several times, the witness said. He also sent her photos of his penis, which she told him to stop doing both over message and in person.

The prosecution asked the witness why, if all of Phinn's actions were nonconsensual and harassment, she initiated conversation, telling Phinn about things like her car breaking down or a tornado hitting her house. 

"(I was) trying to keep the peace at my workplace," the witness said. She kept things "friendly" to keep from having problems at work.

The second witness, Phinn's healthcare assistant echoed a similar sentiment.

"I didn't want to go to work because every time I went to work, he was always at my desk," the witness told the judge. "I could not lose my job, I have two kids, I can't lose my job. I was always so scared I was going to lose my job. He would find me and put me in situations where I always thought I would."

Between June and December 2017 the witnessed was assigned to Phinn. In this time she said he sexually assaulted her several times.

One one occasion the witness went to a stairwell in the Clinical Center to escape the stress of work. In the stairwell Phinn pulled out his penis and then forced his hand into the second witness' pants, feeling her vagina.

Phinn also sent sexually explicit pictures through Snapchat. He asked the witness to block him on Snapchat while he was in the middle of his divorce, the witness said. 

Both witnesses have sought therapy to deal with trauma inflicted on them by Phinn.

The second witness said on another occasion Phinn was talking about a case where a girl was removed from life support after hanging herself. The witness had someone in her life hang themselves and she said Phinn knew that.

While telling her the details of the case, the witness said Phinn massaged her shoulders, working his hands down to her breasts. He did not have permission to touch her.

Once the witnesses realized they both experienced similar events with Phinn, the first witness said they went together to tell their boss, who then notified the police. They both also filed Office of Institutional Equity reports within minutes of each other.

Phinn was bound over to 30th Circuit Court, but no date is set for his next appearance. 

Reporter Karly Graham contributed reporting to this article.

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