North Georgia doctor sexually abused patients, still practicing medicine

ATLANTA — Adrienne Jones grew up going to Dr. Harry McDonald.

He was her mother's doctor, her grandmother's doctor, and he might have been her daughter's doctor, too -- until McDonald sexually assaulted Jones during an exam for mono.

"What he was doing was not right, and it scared me really bad," Jones told Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Jodie Fleischer.

[READ: Doctors & Sex Abuse, an AJC investigation]

When Jones came forward to police, Toccoa police Detective Ginger Currans knew she would need proof, so she had Adrienne schedule another appointment -- this time armed with a tape recorder.

She confronted McDonald about what he did during her prior visit.

"Why did you put your fingers up inside me?" Jones asked McDonald.

McDonald replied that he had been checking glands and that he had done more than he should have.

He was not wearing gloves at the time, and there was no chaperone in the exam room.

"That was over the line and I apologize about that," he told Jones, acknowledging that he also made an inappropriate comment about it "being too good to be true" after Jones had rushed to put her clothes on while the doctor answered a phone call.

"I thought, ‘Bingo, we got you,’" Currans recalled after she heard the audio.

But she added that even within our own police department, there were people who didn't believe it. %



"Remember, in a small town, doctors are treated as royalty," said Currans.

She arrested McDonald for aggravated sexual battery and making false statements.

Currans said when word spread of the arrest, as many as 20 women came forward claiming to have been assaulted by McDonald as well.

Most of the women wanted to remain anonymous, but Jones and three others went on to testify against McDonald in court.

Even after hearing from all four victims and listening to the recording of McDonald's admission, the jury could not reach a decision. %



Rather than face a retrial, McDonald pleaded guilty to simple battery and obstruction, but admitted that he touched Jones inappropriately. He served a two-week jail sentence, paid a $2000 fine and spent two years on probation.

Toccoa Assistant District Attorney Rick Bridgeman said he wanted McDonald to surrender his medical license, but the doctor refused.

"It was one of those sticking points that we were unable to reach agreement on, and we left it in the hands of the medical board," Bridgeman said.

But Georgia's medical board let McDonald keep practicing, despite his admission to having sexual relationships with multiple patients and sexually abusing others.

"I don't think he should be a doctor anymore. I think that should be his punishment," said Elaine Turner, one of the other women who testified against McDonald.

Turner said a few of her own family members continue to use McDonald as a doctor.

"I guess people probably do think that because he still practices, he didn't do it," Jones said.

All three women say they've continued to face skepticism and blame within the community.

"I went to the doctor's office in a t-shirt and sweatpants. I was not wearing makeup, I was not sexy," said Jeanna Patterson, who also testified against McDonald. "Everybody was like, 'Well, what are you getting out of it?' Absolutely nothing.”

Georgia's medical board restricted McDonald's license, requiring him to have a chaperone in the room whenever he treats a female patient, and to wear gloves during exams.

"He got a slap on the wrist," Currans said, adding that she thinks the disciplinary board should not be made up of just doctors. "You know, these women deserve better. They really do."

"You're supposed to trust the people that're supposed to be looking out for you. They're supposed to be watching the doctors, and the doctors are taking advantage,” Patterson said.

Today, McDonald's Toccoa office is still bustling with patients.

"It rarely comes up anymore, but I just try to tell them I'm doing the right thing. I'm trying to be a better person, a better doctor," said McDonald, in his first public interview about the case. "I'm not proud of it, but at least I did admit that I did wrong and I accepted the punishment for it."

McDonald added that he has changed his ways, and has complied with all of the medical board's demands. He's grateful for the second chance to keep practicing medicine.

"I think there's a lot of usefulness in me, and I hate to see a good physician discarded just because they messed up, even as bad as I did," he said.

McDonald said insurance companies no longer cover visits to his practice, but "a lot of faithful patients" still see him. %



He also still works in the emergency room at the Stephens County hospital.

To his victims, McDonald said, "I'm sorry, you placed your respect in me, your confidence in me. I violated the biggest trust one could have."

All three women told Channel 2 what McDonald did to them still affects their lives daily.

Turner said her marriage ended after 18 months.

Jones and Patterson said they have a hard time trusting doctors -- so much so that Patterson said she went four years without seeing a doctor.

McDonald says he has no explanation for why he began abusing patients. He said he began having affairs, then progressed to affairs with patients, and then progressed to the criminal behavior.

"There is no way to understand the sense of grief and guilt that I carry upon myself. But all I can tell you is that I'm trying to do better," McDonald said.

He is planning to petition to have the restrictions lifted from his license later this summer.

All of the women believe McDonald picked them as victims, thinking they would keep quiet. Three said they would have, had Jones not taken the first step.

She says even though it was hard to speak publicly, she's glad she came forward about what happened to her.

"I did it because I didn't want him to continue doing it to other women. That's why I went to the police. I knew it needed to stop," she said.

A team of reporters from our news partners at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution spent more than a year examining thousands of cases from around the country, where patients accused doctors of sexual misconduct.

Here in Georiga, two-thirds of the doctors publicly disciplined by the medical board got to keep their medical license.

The reporters also found that medical boards sometimes keep their findings secret, especially when it's the doctor's first time in trouble, and prosecutors often dismiss or reduce charges, allowing doctors  to keep practicing and stay off of sex offender registries.