Therapist to Be Tried in Assault Case

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It first came to her in a dream--the seemingly crazy notion that she was having sex with her therapist while under hypnosis, a former actress testified this week in Van Nuys Municipal Court.

"I started thinking and remembering and dreaming in my sleep that certain things were happening," the woman said, trembling and crying as she recalled the details of therapy sessions that allegedly turned into sexual encounters.

"I didn't know if it was my crazy thoughts or what."

After officers from the LAPD's North Hollywood station planted a recording device in her bra and monitored her May 10 session with Michael Lamont Buffington, the clues that surfaced in her dreams led to real criminal charges.

On Thursday, Municipal Judge Paul L. Metzler ordered Buffington, 46, to stand trial on six counts of sexually assaulting two female patients in the offices of the Some People's Children medical group on Cahuenga Boulevard. The clinic, run by Buffington's wife, says it specializes in treating victims of sexual abuse.

"Here you have an individual who, if the evidence is true, was in a position of trust and was making his victims exceptionally vulnerable by using hypnosis," the judge said, rejecting a defense motion to dismiss the charges.

According to testimony, Buffington allegedly fondled one of the women in 1993, when she sought his advice while leaving an abusive husband. The other allegedly was fondled in April and May while undergoing treatment for anxiety.

Both women testified at the preliminary hearing that they could remember details of being fondled by Buffington while under hypnosis, but felt powerless to resist him.

"I just kind of lost it," one testified.

"I was in shock that he was touching me," said the other. "I didn't know what he'd do if I opened my eyes."

Afterward, she added, Buffington "got very close to my face and said in a very strong way that I wasn't to tell anyone about this."

Buffington is not a licensed psychologist, although he has used the title "doctor" in the past, said Les Williams, an investigator for the Medical Board of California. Instead, Williams said, Buffington is licensed as a psychologist's aide. The case remains under investigation by the medical board, he added.

The audiotape made by police underscores the key prosecution evidence--the credibility of the victims' statements, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Alan Yochelson.

As police listened nearby, Buffington hypnotized the woman. A few minutes later, a Los Angeles police detective testified, officers heard sounds that heightened their suspicions.

"We heard a zipper," said Det. Karen Crawford. "We heard clothes rustling, and we started hearing some very heavy breathing. At that point, we made the decision to enter."

Police kicked in the door and half a dozen officers rushed in.

Crawford testified that she found the woman sprawled in a chair with her eyes closed and her head turned to one side. "I noticed she wasn't wearing any panties," she said.

Defense attorney William Graysen argued that the charges should be dismissed because no threat or force was used. He suggested that the women hadn't felt fear at the time, but now were bringing charges against Buffington because they feel angry and betrayed.

But Yochelson said the victims were afraid and under duress.

"The crime requires overcoming of a person's will by force or fear or coercion or duress," Yochelson said. "The victims testified they were afraid. They are justified in their stated fear."

Buffington is scheduled to be arraigned in Superior Court on Aug. 15.

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