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Employees of Patton State Hospital took the stand March 27 to defend Christopher Lee Smart, a social worker accused of having sex with his patients.

Patton State Hospital treats criminal defendants with mental issues, some of whom have been found incapable of being tried, and others who have been assigned to mental health treatment instead of imprisonment.

Smart was charged with nine counts of sexual abuse, including five of rape of a person incapable of giving consent, two counts of oral copulation of an incompetent person, one count of sexual penetration of an incompetent person and one count of sexual battery on an institutionalized victim. Prosecutors allege the acts took place between 2014 and 2018, and they filed the case in 2020.

Employees of Patton State Hospital said that Smart had a good reputation, always kept his office door propped open with a trash can when meeting with patients, and that allegations of interactions with former patients after their release did not change their idea of his professionalism.

Each of the witnesses March 27 were for the defense. The prosecutor’s witnesses appeared earlier in the trial. 

Closing arguments will be made Tuesday, April 2, in San Bernardino Justice Center’s Courtroom 8.

One former employee, Leslie Moore, said that Patton’s female patients frequently make allegations of sexual abuse against male employees.

“It is common practice,” Moore testified.

“It happened often. Prior to me leaving, I was helping on another case, where a woman made accusations against an employee,” she continued.

The witnesses often began by saying the accusations against Smart were handled differently than others, but would stop elaborating due to the objection of prosecutor David Rabb. 

Nilda Diaz, a Patton psychologist, said she received an email from the Department of State Hospitals regarding the allegations against Smart. It was the first time she received an email regarding sexual allegations despite multiple prior allegations against other employees, she testified. She also was not interviewed by the hospital’s investigators regarding the allegations, another break from past history.

Diaz said she did not believe the allegations based on knowing Smart, the number of patients and staff in the hospital, the amount of observation at the hospital, and the alleged victims’ past history of manipulation.

One of the alleged victims was found incompetent to stand trial, and another had a history of dishonesty and had a personality disorder, Diaz said.

All three alleged victims were known as being manipulative, Diaz said.

Nicholas Nguyen, a psychiatrist who never worked directly with Smart, said that Sandra, one of the patients, was a pathological liar, who would lie when it suits her goals. She would distort her past criminal history to place the blame on others, he said as an example. He also said her symptoms got worse over time, and denied her medications in 2019, when she began to insist she was mentally sound. In 2019, during an interview with Nguyen, Sandra denied she was sexually assaulted, Nguyen said.

Moore, an instructor at San Bernardino Valley College who worked 27 years as a psych tech at Patton, said that Smart would always leave the door open, never received any complaints, and would go the extra mile by allowing patients to phone their families from his office phone. He was so good, he was accidentally stealing patients from the other social worker patients were assigned to, Moore said.

Larry Dobie, a licensed vocational nurse at Patton since 2006, said that Smart “was exceptionally professional, both to staff and patients.” He said that Smart always alerted staff, and propped his office door open, when meeting with patients individually.

Kimberley Scott, a unit supervisor at Patton, said that she was not interviewed by hospital investigators. Instead, she only heard rumors of the allegations, until she was contacted by Smart’s counsel. Scott described this lack of investigation by the state “unusual,” a claim objected to and struck from the record.

The witnesses also testified that Smart’s wife, who also worked in the hospital, would occasionally visit.

At the end of the witnesses, San Bernardino Superior Judge Ronald Christianson read a stipulation agreed upon by both parties: that Sandra had twice claimed another Patton employee had sexually assaulted patients. Her first claim, that she was kissed by the employee in 2011, was determined to be unfounded. Her roommate told investigators that Sandra had told her she would make the claim ahead of time, to get transferred to her old unit. She forged a second complaint under the name of another patient. That patient denied she was ever assaulted.

Rabb, the prosecutor, based his line of questioning along certain pieces of evidence, asking the witnesses if it changed their view of Smart or his professionalism.

Would they change their ideas of Smart if they find out he had visited the house of a former patient after they were released? Or met one of them in a restaurant? What if he collected money from a former patient to pay for a room at the Wigwam Motel? Or transferred money to a former patient? Is giving out his personal cell phone number to a former patient professional? Rabb asked. He also asked about a piece of semen found on the bookshelf of Smart’s office.

Each employee said those actions would not change their opinions of Smart. 

Diaz, the psychologist, said that maintaining contact with a patient is recommended by California’s licensing board, although the state rule is to abandon patients after they are released. If she was contacted by a former patient, Diaz said she would consult with the staff, send resources to the patient and report the interaction. She would not meet the former patient at a restaurant or send money, but she might meet at their house if she had an independent practice, Diaz said.

“I’d be surprised,” Scott said when asked how she would interpret the semen. “I don’t see him doing anything like that,” she continued.

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