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."
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.
Smith said he was a New York native who did a stint in the Army and attended the University of Hartford before studying at the Loyola University of Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.