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September 17, 2014

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Epilepsy patient’s civil suit in alleged 2008 rape at hospital going to trial Monday

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Steven Farmer

The 34-year-old patient had been in an out of several hospitals because of her epilepsy.

But Centennial Hills stood out from the rest. Nursing assistant Steven Farmer always greeted her with a warm blanket.

The woman wrote down both Farmer’s name and the name of a female emergency nurse, so that she could write them a positive review. She tucked the names into her purse before Farmer was to transport her to her room.

She’d never write the review, but she would file a lawsuit.

The woman is one of six people whom Farmer is accused of sexually assaulting while he was employed at Centennial Hills and Rawson-Neal Psychiatric hospitals.

Five years later, on Monday, the woman’s suit will be the first of at least two civil cases related to Farmer’s alleged misconduct to go to trial in Clark County District Court.

The woman’s suit against Valley Health Systems and its Centennial Hills Hospital argues Farmer’s past should have startled anyone thinking about hiring him. Court documents don’t detail what that past entails, nor would the woman’s lawyers discuss what they’ve learned.

Further, the suit alleges, the hospital’s lack of policies or improper enforcement of policies created a situation that allowed Farmer to take advantage of her.

The criminal case against Farmer, who faces several counts related to sexual abuse, is scheduled to go to trial on Feb. 3, 2014.

It is somewhat unusual for a civil case tied to criminal litigation to be heard first, the plaintiff’s attorney said. It means his client will have to prove not only liability, but also that the assault happened. Valley Health and Centennial Hills have not conceded, for purposes of the civil suit, the assault occurred.

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After Farmer took the woman from the ER on May 16, 2008, he had her alone for about an hour, said the woman’s attorney, Neal Hyman.

“Why did no one ask where he was? Why was no one wondering where she was?” are questions Hyman said he planned to ask at trial.

Farmer’s demeanor transformed when he wheeled the woman into an elevator, according to the woman’s testimony in a preliminary hearing for the criminal case.

He kept adjusting her blankets, his hands lingering too close to intimate areas. He kept saying she should be sleepy from the medication, she testified.

She clutched her cellphone under the blankets. She called 911 but became scared when she heard the dispatcher. If she could hear the dispatcher, Farmer probably could, too, she thought, so she hung up.

She remembers the hospital floor looking deserted when they got off the elevator.

“There was no one there to receive me. So I didn’t know if anyone even knew I was in the room,” she testified, saying she thought about screaming but didn’t. “I thought, no one was even the floor when I got out, are they going to hear me, is he going to kill me?”

In that room, a chuckling, giggling Farmer raped her, the patient testified.

“I was just thinking someone was going to show up, someone was going to show up, someone was going to show up,” she said.

At other hospitals, someone else always had been there to check vitals, go over her chart, etc.

When Farmer left he stressed that his shift was almost over and that he would be back, the patient said.

When a nurse did show up, the patient said she remembered her saying, “Oh, you’re here.”

Hysterical, the patient begged not be left alone and demanded to see the police and a hospital supervisor at once.

The patient testified that a “lady from the hospital” came into her room and said, “Let’s concentrate on you getting better.”

The hospital attendant told the patient the hospital released Farmer and told him he wasn’t allowed on the property.

“What? What do you mean?” the patient demanded.

Finally, the woman’s husband called and got the police involved, according to court records.

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The patient, now 40, hopes her lawsuit will send a message to Valley Health and other hospitals, Hyman said, about the need to have policies in place and enforce them so such incidents don't happen.

Hyman’s client still relives the experience. She will suffer through pain to avoid going to a hospital, Hyman said.

The lawsuit asks for unspecified general damages, attorneys’ fees and punitive damages.

Farmer was employed at the hospitals as a temporary employee through the now-defunct American Nursing Services Inc., which provided contract medical personnel to hospitals.

While it is the hospital’s stance that it isn’t liable because it was the agency’s job to check out Farmer, Hyman will argue that isn’t the case, especially since Farmer’s behavior had already raised suspicions during his time with Valley Health.

John Bemis, an attorney representing Valley Health, said he couldn’t comment on ongoing litigation.

Farmer, now 61, remains in Clark County Detention Center on a $250,000 bail.

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