Tameka Stokes was 19 when a pelvic disease diagnosis brought her to the exam table of Bruce Sylvester Smith, a gynecologist at Chicago's Kennedy Medical Service Corp., in May 2000.
According to Stokes' allegations in state records, Smith raped her while her legs were in stirrups.As she left the exam room, Stokes broke down crying to a nurse, who immediately called police, records show. After submitting to a rape exam at South Shore Hospital, Stokes provided detectives with a description of Smith's actions -- allegations later shared with the state agency that polices professional license-holders, the documents show."You go into the doctor trusting them, thinking they'll do the right thing for you and you come out feeling humiliated like that's been taken away from you," Stokes, now a married mother and nurse, told authorities during a 2008 state hearing. "And I never want that to happen to my nieces or my sisters or anyone."
But two more of Smith's patients would claim rape and at least four other women would allege sexual misconduct before law enforcement or the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation would take punitive action, according to state records, raising questions about how the system responded.
State officials say it takes time to build a case, and in the matter of Bruce Smith, it took lots of time: seven years after the first complaint to seek disciplinary action, another two years before punishment was handed down. He was free to continue practicing the whole nine years.
In late 2009, after the seventh woman had come forward, the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation did discipline Smith for "unprofessional and immoral conduct," according to records from the administrative prosecution.
The agency suspended his license in October for a minimum of 9 months, meaning he will be able to reapply this summer. The department did not seek to revoke the license. The medical prosecutor recommended a minimum one-year suspension, but the administrative judge decided against it.
Lisa Stephens, chief of medical prosecutions for the department, said the agency did not have enough evidence to make a clear and convincing case of rape against Smith, and that the suspension was appropriate.
The Cook County state's attorney's office reviewed the three rape allegations from 2000 and 2002 and declined to press charges.
When the Tribune inquired about those cases, Shauna Boliker, the state's attorney's chief of the criminal division, could not explain why her office did not prosecute. But Boliker said the office responded last week to the Tribune's findings by "working day and night to find all of the victims."
In the past week, Stokes and a woman who alleged rape in 2002 have been contacted repeatedly by detectives. The women said the outreach was unexpected given that they hadn't heard from the police in years.
"They're just trying to cover their butts," the 2002 victim, who felt that police brushed her off when she alleged rape, told the Tribune. "Everyone dropped the ball."
Roderick Drew, spokesman for the Chicago Police Department, declined to answer specific questions.
"We continue to work with the Cook County state's attorney's office with respect to this ongoing investigation," Drew said. "Since the investigation remains open, we cannot discuss any of the details."
Smith, 57, who is married with children, did not respond to questions. He is appealing the suspension of his license in court.
"The matter is still in litigation, and we have no comment other than to say that Dr. Smith has always denied and continues to deny any and all allegations of misconduct with any patient," said Smith's attorney, Terry Takash.
Doctor defends self
During his state hearing, which stretched from December 2008 to May 2009, Smith said he made a point of being affectionate with the thousands of female patients he had treated but never did anything inappropriate to them.
"I'm competing against women in the same field or similar fields, and one of the complaints against male doctors is that we're cold and distant, and I have seen my female colleagues hug and kiss people and it's conceived as emotionally related or caring about their patients," Smith said, according to a transcript.
After completing a residency focusing on obstetrics and gynecology at Mount Sinai Hospital in 1998, he began working at Kennedy Medical Service Corp. on the South Side. He also had privileges to practice at Advocate Trinity Hospital, which referred patients including Stokes to him.
Stokes alleged that Smith told her she was in need of a pelvic exam, state records show. While they were alone in the room, he stood between her raised legs and told her to relax, she testified.
"As I'm laying back, I heard more of a snap, not a button snap but an elastic snap ... like scrubs, like doctors wear or nurses wear," Stokes told authorities in 2008, according to a transcript of the administrative hearing.
"I felt him in me. ... I just looked up at the ceiling, I can't believe this is happening to me," she testified.
Stokes told authorities she did not cry out during the minutes-long alleged assault because she was shocked and scared, but that her demeanor crumbled as soon as she left the exam room, drawing the attention of the nurse, according to documents.
Much to her dismay, detectives appeared dismissive of her allegations and never called back, Stokes said. The rape kit did not turn up Smith's semen, and the state's attorney's office declined to press charges because it was a he-said, she-said, "one-on-one" case, according to records from Smith's prosecution by the professional regulation department years later.
Smith continued to practice at Kennedy Medical Service for several more years, according to records.
A woman who was pregnant at the time of her exam alleged in 2002 that the gynecologist grabbed hold of her legs and penetrated her.
"I was afraid when I realized what he was doing, yes. He's a doctor, and he's down there with my baby," the woman, who worked as a teacher assistant for special-needs children, told authorities in 2008 during the administrative hearing, records show.
Immediately after leaving the office, the woman called her sister, who contacted a rape hot line. At a counselor's urging, the woman underwent a rape exam at the University of Chicago Hospitals and, days later, filed a complaint with Chicago police. The state's attorney's office did not press charges, and the investigation was suspended, the records show.
The same thing happened when the third woman made her allegations.
The woman alleged that she heard Smith tear open a condom wrapper and felt him place both arms around her legs and penetrate her, according to state records.
She alleged that she returned to Smith's office to confront him before going to police and that the doctor told her that she wanted it, records show.
She said detectives told her there wasn't anything they could do.
"They were like, 'Yeah, we know about him,' " said the woman, who was a social worker at the time and now works as a nurse. "I said, 'You all should have done something.' ... They said they needed more proof."
The women who alleged rape in 2002 filed separate lawsuits against Smith and Kennedy Medical Service Corp., which were later dropped after Smith filed for bankruptcy.
Smith denied the allegations in the lawsuit. And Kennedy Medical Service denied responsibility, saying in court documents that after the 2000 rape allegation it held a staff meeting including Smith in which it was "explained that there was to be no inappropriate contact with patients and that such contact was not tolerated."
Dr. Lofton Kennedy Jr., who owns the practice, declined to comment.
Smith said during the administrative hearing that he left Kennedy Medical Service five or six years after arriving because of differences in its malpractice insurance and Kennedy's concern that he would be liable for Smith's actions, according to a transcript of the hearing.
After Kennedy Medical, Smith worked at Michael Reese Hospital before launching his own Streator-based practice, Cameo Women's Healthcare, which advertised "care that you would expect from a family member."
Complaints to state
With each move, the trail of allegations grew longer.
*In December 2003, the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation received a complaint alleging that Smith had touched his private area on the outside of his pants in front of a patient, asked her if she liked the pelvic exam, caressed her back and touched her buttocks, according to documents.
*In 2005, the department began investigating a complaint regarding Smith's conduct toward a teenage girl who was a ward of the state Department of Children and Family Services. While at Michael Reese, Smith allegedly ripped a sheet off the girl's half-naked body, hugged her, tried to kiss her, sent her a text message and proclaimed that he loved her, according to state documents.
*In 2006, the department began investigating a complaint regarding a patient who alleged Smith hugged her tight, tried to solicit an affair from her, talked to her about sex toys and drew a picture of a vibrator on the sheet covering her at Cameo Women's Healthcare.
*In 2007, the department began investigating allegations by a patient who said that at Michael Reese he gave her hugs that made her uncomfortable, including one that was given while she was on the exam table and he was close in between her legs.
The department refused to say whether or not there were additional complaints.
It did not seek disciplinary action against Smith until late 2007.
In 2004 and 2006, the department had Smith evaluated by another doctor, Stafford C. Henry, who recommended on both occasions that Smith complete a course on boundaries and that "under no circumstances should Dr. Smith interact with a patient without a neutral third-party present," according to a transcript of the administrative hearing.
Smith did not follow those recommendations, according to records. Stephens, the department's chief of medical prosecutions, said the agency had no legal authority to enforce the measures unless it secured a disciplinary action against him.
"There are definitely steps in the process that unfortunately take time," Stephens said. "Once we file a complaint we need to be ready to go forward to a formal hearing. We have to have our evidence ready to prove a case."
The department's formal complaint against Smith, filed in September 2007 and later amended, focused on the allegations made by three patients after 2004 and resurrected the three alleged rapes as evidence of "prior bad acts," according to records from the prosecution. Five of those patients testified at the hearing.
After the hearing concluded in 2009, the administrative judge, Michael Lyons, sent a report to the medical disciplinary board concluding that the allegations regarding Smith's inappropriate behavior against the three women after 2004 were truthful while his denials were not, and that the charges made by women who alleged rape "indicate that something was amiss about Smith's conduct with his patients and thus tend to support the allegations of the other three women."
Stephens sought to have Smith's license suspended for at least one year, but Lyons recommended a minimum of nine months instead because he said the department failed to prove an allegation that Smith performed a tubal ligation on one of the women without her informed consent.
His recommendation was approved by the department's medical disciplinary board, headed by Edward Rose, and the director of the department's division of professional regulation at the time, Daniel Bluthardt.
Smith is challenging the suspension in Cook County Chancery Court.
Stokes, meanwhile, is still recovering from the 2000 incident.
"It's traumatizing," an angry Stokes told the Tribune last week in the living room of her Calumet City home. "I have problems trusting people and have never been able to see a male doctor again."
Nearly a decade of allegations
From May 2000 to February 2007, seven female patients accused gynecologist Bruce Sylvester Smith of either rape or sexual misconduct, according to court records and documents from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.
Rape allegation: May 2000
A 19-year-old patient reports being raped by Smith during a pelvic exam at Kennedy Medical Service Corp.
Rape allegation: August 2002
A pregnant woman reports being raped by Smith during a pelvic exam at Kennedy Medical Service Corp.
Rape allegation: Fall 2002
A social worker reports being raped by Smith during a pelvic exam at Kennedy Medical Service Corp.
Allegation of sexual misconduct: December 2003
A patient of Smith reports that he touched his private area on the outside of his pants in front of her, asked her if she liked the pelvic exam, caressed her back and touched her buttocks.
Allegation of sexual misconduct: August 2005
The state begins investigating a complaint that Smith at Michael Reese Hospital ripped a sheet off a teenage patient's half-naked body, hugged her, tried to kiss her, sent her a text message and proclaimed that he loved her.
Allegation of sexual misconduct: December 2006
The state begins investigating a complaint that Smith tightly hugged a married patient, tried to solicit an affair from her, talked to her about sex toys and drew a picture of a vibrator on the sheet covering her at Cameo Women's Healthcare.
Allegation of sexual misconduct: February 2007
The state begins investigating a complaint that Smith gave hugs to a patient at Michael Reese Hospital that made her uncomfortable, including one given while she was on the exam table and he was really close in between her legs.
The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation suspends Smith's license for a minimum of nine months "for unprofessional and immoral conduct."
Smith is eligible to apply for reinstatement of his license.
SOURCE: State and court documents