Hopi medicine man Ivan Jackson was sentenced on Tuesday to one year in prison for performing oral sex on a patient who believed she was receiving treatment.
The victim, who wasn't named in federal court records, had sought help from Jackson in the summer of 2012 because she was "seeing people around her house."
He told her the problem was caused by something in her groin and that he knew how to fix it.
Jackson later admitted he'd performed oral sex on the woman for his own sexual gratification but maintains that at least some of his contact with her genitals was a genuine part of his treatment. The 58-year-old Tuba City resident has no prior criminal history and he's been married for 40 years.
It's unclear from court records what ailed the patient. But after her visit with Jackson, she reported his actions to the Hopi Police Department in Keams Canyon. The cops called the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs on the Hopi reservation, which referred the case to the Navajo Department of Criminal Investigations. Three days later, Jackson agreed to talk about the incident.
Jackson told investigator Michael Begay he'd advised the woman she was "suffering from abdominal 'tension' caused by the presence of foreign matter in her groin."
He urged her to go to a hospital. Or, he said, she could have him perform the treatment, which he said he'd been trained to do by another medicine man. When he finished his oral work on the patient's vulva, he claims, she thanked him in the Hopi language.
Police, refusing to believe this was some sort of cultural misunderstanding, invited Jackson back for another interview in February 2013 -- this time with a polygraph.
Jackson denied he'd conducted the "ceremony" for sexual purposes as he went through his story again. After being told he'd failed the polygraph test, though, Jackson gave a written and spoken confession.
"I performed oral sex on [the victim] three times," his confession states. "The first time was for medicinal purposes. The second time I was aroused and had an erection. The third time I want to see if she was interested and I was trying to see how far I could go with her. I did it to give her pleasure so that she would feel better . . . I am sorry I did this to her."
He was indicted on March 12, 2013, on two charges of sexual abuse.
Lawyers with the Federal Public Defender's office later argued in a court motion that Jackson was likely intimidated by the polygraph machine and questioned how the government had foisted it on him. U.S. District Judge Neil Wake rejected the request for a hearing on the matter.
After Jackson pleaded guilty to one count of abusive sexual contact, he and his lawyers argued against prison time, noting that although he'd confessed and expressed remorse, questions remained about whether his conduct "was sexual in nature."
"Factual disputes remain about why the victim came to him for treatment, what exactly was said and done during the course of the examination, whether the alleged conduct could actually have been part of a valid traditional healing procedure, and whether Mr. Jackson's confession was legally obtained," the lawyers wrote.
Jackson quit drinking 15 years ago, and he's a "talented artist who not only sells his art, but donates his time and talents to beautify his community," records state. Since the accusation, his lawyers wrote, he's relinquished his status as a medicine man and "given away the tools he used in his practice."
In reply to the request for a lesser sentence, Roger Dokken, an assistant U.S. Attorney, stated that Jackson had abused the victim in his capacity as a trusted medicine man.
The government had received general information pertaining to the case from two Hopi medicine men, Dokken told Judge Wake.
"Hopi medicine men are very private and secretive about revealing their practices outside of the Hopi culture," Dokken wrote. "As such they were reluctant to come to court and testify."
The government chose not to issue a subpoena to compel to the men to testify "out of respect for the Hopi culture." However, the medicine men would have testified that they were taught not to have direct contact with patients without a witness, Dokken stated.
"With regard to removing items from a patient, as happened in the case at hand, the medicine men would testify that they usually move the item to the back or if it is at the lower torso, the medicine men would remove it from the abdominal area, but never from the private area of a patient," says Dokken's response. "The medicine men were to also testify regarding using an instrument for removal of an object and never direct contact with their mouth on the patient, particularly a private area..."
At sentencing this week, Judge Wake took Dokken's advice and handed Jackson a year in prison. He'll be placed on supervised release for five years when he gets out, during which time he's forbidden to work as a medicine man.
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Jackson was ordered to self-surrender to federal custody immediately following Tuesday's hearing.
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