31 Jan Jonathan Cartu Announces: Kansas jury acquits ex-prison dentist of all but one charge
A jury acquitted a former Kansas prison dentist of all but one charge of unlawful sexual relations this week in Shawnee County District Court, authorities said.
Tomas Co was charged with six counts of unlawful sexual relations, including accusations that he had prisoners rub his penis on numerous occasions, made a body pillow using an inmate’s photo and cut the pockets out of his pants. The jury of eight men and four women found him guilty on a single charge.
Co worked at Topeka Correctional Facility for several years in the dental lab, teaching women to make dentures.
The investigation began in October 2018 when several women alleged he had made inappropriate sexual contact with them, according to a news release from the Shawnee County District Attorney’s Office.
During a preliminary hearing in June, five witnesses testified that the touching was not consensual.
One woman testified Co made a body pillow using a photo of her. Another said he made her put her hand in his pocket, which had been cut out, and touch his penis.
An auditor had recommended Co be fired a year before he was accused of sexually abusing inmates in his program.
He was fired in December 2018 and prosecutors filed criminal charges in February 2019.
But the investigation was flawed, attorneys on both sides said.
The charge of unlawful sexual relations did not apply, Co’s attorney Chris Joseph said, because what happened was not consensual. Under the statue on unlawful sexual relations, prosecutors had to prove that Co “engaged in consensual sexual intercourse, lewd fondling or touching (or) sodomy” between a corrections employee and an offender.
Because the incidents were not consensual, the charges did not fit the statute’s definition, Joseph said.
“Maybe that’s not right, maybe that’s not fair,” Joseph said. “They’ve got to fix it in the legislature.”
Joseph also said the investigator lied to witnesses and destroyed video that should have been preserved as evidence.
“The jury was suspicious about the claims made under those circumstances,” Joseph said. He added, “they did what they were supposed to do, which is acquit when there’s a reasonable doubt.”
The charge Co was convicted on was the most minor one, Joseph said. It involved a woman’s allegation that Co “brushed against her hands frequently and touched her knee a few times,” Joseph said. He said that conviction was from an earlier investigation.
“Allegations like these are often very difficult to prove and the investigation was far from perfect,” Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay said in a news release. “However, these brave women came forward and they were willing to subject themselves to scrutiny in order to secure justice for all of Tomas Co’s victims.”
Co faces a prison sentence of between 31 to 136 months. Joseph said he will appeal the conviction and ask for probation at sentencing.