Law enforcement authorities and a victims advocacy group are expressing outrage and dismay after a Houston doctor was not sentenced to jail for sexually assaulting a sedated patient in her hospital room.
A Harris County jury convicted ex-Baylor College of Medicine physician Shafeeq Sheikh of sexual assault last week and sentenced him to 10 years of probation.
"This is beyond troubling," Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said. "A hideous crime is committed in a hospital room which should be a sanctuary for patients. So many new norms that run contrary to what we've always stood for, I pray no accountability for harming people isn't one of them."
The incident took place in 2013 at Ben Taub Hospital in Houston. According to court documents, the victim was admitted to the hospital after an asthma attack and during her stay was sexually assaulted on three different occasions during overnight hours by a man who entered her room.
She told police she tried to call for help but was unsuccessful. It was determined the next morning that her call button had been unplugged, according to CNN affiliate KTRK.
According to court records, cameras inside the hospital showed Sheikh near the victim's room, using his hospital identification card to gain access, KTRK reported.
But Sheikh, 46, asserted in court that the sex was consensual. His argument was convincing enough for the 12-person jury to decide on a sentence of probation, defense attorney Stanley Schneider told CNN.
Sheikh was arrested in 2015. His Texas medical license has been suspended, his attorney said.
Sheikh also must now register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, said Dane Schiller, director of communications for the Harris County District Attorney's Office.
"After being presented all the evidence, the jury convicted this man of rape and decided that he should be sentenced to 10 years of probation; the jury voted on behalf of the community to determine his sentence, and although prosecutors sought 20 years in prison," Schiller said in an e-mail. "We respect this process."
Texas is one of the few states in the United States that allows jury sentencing.
Schneider, the defense attorney, said the jury had a real sense of who Sheikh was and what the issues were in the case after eight days of testimony and 15 hours of deliberation.
"It's easy to criticize when you are not there to listen. I'm surprised the police chief does not have more respect for the jury system and the judicial system in Texas," Schneider said. "That's the problem with Monday morning quarterbacks."
The Houston Chronicle reported that the sentence "surprised defense attorneys, disappointed law enforcement and raised concerns from a victims advocacy group."
The newspaper quoted Sonia Corrales, chief program officer at the Houston Area Women's Center, who was unfamiliar with the case but said there should be equity in sentencing violent sexual offenders who try to minimize their actions "by claiming it wasn't sexual assault, but was consensual sex."