Tessa Proffitt, 42, a sexual assault forensic nurse who worked for Mountain States Health Alliance and the VA, and another nurse, Alicia May, 53, who also worked at Mountain States, met in the early 2000s and became friends. It was that friendship that led to their downfall, their convictions and the likely loss of their licenses to practice.
Proffitt’s actions also created a ripple effect that could impact people already convicted of sex crimes — as well as some cases still pending — where she was the nurse who examined the victim.
Proffitt pleaded guilty by Alford plea to six counts of unlawful disclosure of confidential sex abuse information. Five of the charges were merged into one and she received 11 months 29 days in jail. It was consecutive to the sixth charge, for an effective sentence of a few days shy of two years.
May pleaded guilty, also by Alford plea, to five counts of unlawful disclosure of confidential sex abuse information. Four of the charges were merged into one and she received 11 months 29 days in jail. It was consecutive to the fifth charge, also giving her an effective sentence of a few days shy of two years.
They will serve their sentences on probation.
An Alford plea allows a defendant to enter a guilty plea while not admitting guilt because they believe the state has sufficient evidence to convict them at trial, and decide it’s in their best interest to accept the plea agreement. The result is the same as a guilty plea.
As part of the agreement, both women gave up their right to seek judicial diversion. Because neither had any prior charges or convictions and led productive lives, they would have been eligible for the diversion if giving up that right hadn’t been part of the deal.
Charges of tampering with evidence and conspiracy to tamper with evidence were dismissed.
As part of the plea agreement, both women received two 11-month, 29-day sentences in jail, but Criminal Court Judge Lisa Rice had to decide if they got straight probation or some type of split confinement. She listened to their attorney’s statements, heard statements from the women and read several documents, including some email and Facebook exchanges between them about the case.
Her decision was pretty straightforward based on Proffitt and May’s prior history, the fact they were pleading to misdemeanors and the high likelihood they would succeed on probation. Rice’s comments to the women were direct and she seemed baffled at the women’s actions.
“They’ve both reached mature ages with nothing but glowing recommendations from coworkers, colleagues, friends, family and even families of patients. Both of you have lived remarkable, respectable, productive,” lives, Rice said. The judge noted that May was not bound by confidentiality, but Proffitt actions “shows a clear and determined to violate the confidentiality you were trusted with.”
The situation that led to Proffitt and May’s charges started in January 2017 when May’s son was investigated and accused of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl in Carter County. Proffitt was called to a walk-in clinic to conduct a forensic exam on the girl, apparently not knowing the child was alleged to be the victim of her friend’s son. Proffitt was also part of the child protective investigation team that meets to discuss cases and make determinations about proceeding with charges or not.
Instead of keeping all that information to herself, which she was bound by law to do, she shared information with Mays, and they discussed the case on several occasions, prosecutors said. May then relayed information to her son’s attorney, Cameron Hyder, who apparently didn’t review the material right away.
When he did look at documents May left at his office, he realized there was confidential medical information about the child. He conferred with the state Board of Professional Responsibility, which led him to contact investigators.
That led to the women being investigated and indicted in January 2018.
In rendering her decision, Rice said the ironic thing was that the confidential information Proffitt shared with May, who then passed it along to Hyder, was information Hyder would have eventually received anyway.
“I’ll be honest with you Ms. Proffitt, I have always been impressed by your testimony, by your knowledge, by your candor. You’ve testified in many cases before. Quite frankly, it seems you got full of yourself. Maybe we put too much faith in you.”
“Anything you knew was going to be disclosed to the defense anyway,” Rice said. “All of this was for naught. It’s a shame this pales all the work you did in the past,” Rice told the women, again particularly pointing out how Proffitt’s actions will have a lasting effect on any case she was involved in.
In addition to the nearly two years of probation, both women must complete 60 hours of community service. Friday won’t be Proffitt’s last time in court because she is still a witness in several sexual assaults.