Sex-abuse case headed to trial

vpatton@mercedsunstar.comFebruary 12, 2013 

— A dentist accused of sexually abusing four patients will stand trial in the case, a Merced County judge decided Monday.

Sang Hyuk Park, who faces six sexual abuse counts, is accused of exposing himself to the women and touching them inappropriately while they were under sedation at his former Park Avenue office in Merced.

Park, 43, has pleaded not guilty to the charges. His attorney, Thomas Johnson, said his client steadfastly denies the allegations.

Judge Donald Proietti decided there was ample evidence to move forward to trial after hearing more than two hours of testimony from Merced Police Detective Raquel Rios, the lead investigator in the case.

Under questioning from Chief Deputy District Attorney Rob Carroll, Rios testified that the first woman, who worked for Park as an assistant, reported being sedated on two occasions in October while having dental fillings done by Park.

On the first occasion, the woman claimed she awoke to find Park beginning to pull down her pants, and holding a stethoscope on her breast.

The woman had a second procedure, Rios said, because there still were problems with her teeth. The woman claimed Park sedated her again, and she awoke with her pants and underwear around her ankles, and Park taking photographs of her.

The woman told police that Park had exposed himself, and asked her to touch him.

Rios said police set up a phone call between the woman and Park, which was recorded by law enforcement. During the call, the woman asked Park about the illicit pictures she says he took. Rios said Park apologized, and told the woman he had deleted them.

"His response was as though he had been caught," Rios told Carroll, under questioning.

Rios testified that other women then came forward, giving similar stories about being sedated by Park and being touched inappropriately. Some of the women said the incidents dated back to 2011, but claimed they didn't come forward because they felt embarrassed and thought no one would believe them.

Under cross-examination by Johnson, Rios acknowledged that some of the victims did return to Park for treatment after the incidents are claimed to have happened.

The detective acknowledged that some of those claiming to be victims were employed by Park and continued working for him after some of the abuse is claimed to have happened.

After Monday's hearing, Johnson said those facts will play an important part of the defense's case.

"Certainly we're litigating on the fact that they all continued treatment with him," Johnson said. "Some of them worked there. Some of them were assisting in the same procedures that the district attorney alleges are assaults. ... At trial, we think it gets a lot better for us."

Carroll said even if the women did return to Park for treatment, it doesn't diminish the allegations.

"It's a situation where (victims) sometimes don't know who to tell. They don't know what to do," the prosecutor said. "It doesn't make it any less of a crime, and doesn't make (each woman) any less of a victim. We have strong evidence. Not only do we have multiple victims, we have a pre-text phone call where (Park) confessed to many of the allegations. We have a very solid case."

An administrative law judge in early December temporarily suspended Park's dental license.

The state attorney general's office brought a case against Park on behalf of the state's dental board because of the criminal case pending against him in Merced County.

Park remains free on bail.

His next court appearance is scheduled for March 13.

City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsunstar.com.