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Jailed Whidbey skin doctor loses license to practice

Dr. Donald
Dr. Donald 'Russell' Johnson speaks to attorney Peter Simpson during a hearing in Island County Superior Court Monday.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times

The state Medical Quality Assurance Commission and the Department of Health suspended the license of Coupeville dermatologist Donald Russell Johnson for allegations of patient abandonment and criminal assault.

The 51-year-old Whidbey Island resident is currently sitting in the Island County jail after being picked up on a $100,000 arrest warrant last week in Whatcom County.

Dr. Johnson appeared in court Monday and pleaded not guilty to two counts of assault in the second degree and a single count of "harassment / threats to kill." He is being held without bail because he allegedly violated a court order by contacting the victim.

With his medical license suspended, Johnson can't practice medicine in Washington until the charges are resolved. He has 20 days to respond to the charges and request a hearing.

The Medical Quality Assurance Commission's statement of charges against Johnson recount how he closed his medical offices in Coupeville and Anacortes on July 1, leaving about 33,000 patients without medical records. He also was in arrears on rent payments to a storage facility where he kept patient records.

The charges state that Johnson closed his clinic without telling his patients and did not make arrangements for patients or other health care providers to have access to the records, in violation of professional conduct guidelines. He did not respond to the Medical Commission's request for information.

The charges also detail the experience of a person described as "Patient A" who Johnson had been treating and prescribing medication. The patient made several emergency calls to his office and emergency numbers to discuss concerns about the medicine, but the calls weren't answered.

In addition, the commission's charges describe the criminal case against Johnson, who's accused of choking his girlfriend twice and threatening to kill her.

Island County Superior Court Judge Vickie Churchill approved a $100,000 warrant for Johnson's arrest after he didn't appear at a Sept. 27 hearing.

Island County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Eric Ohme said Johnson had been at a hospital being treated for pancreatitis. He was arrested after being released from the hospital.

At a hearing last week, a judge ordered Johnson to be held in jail without bail after the prosecutor presented "clear and convincing evidence" that he had violated a court order by contacting the alleged victim, Marianne Baker. He allegedly sent her an email asking her to take down photos on Facebook.

Johnson's trial was set for Dec. 13.

Johnson is accused of assaulting Baker at their Cornet Bay home Sept. 6. According to the affidavit of probable cause, Baker told detectives that things had been tense between Johnson and her because of problems with his failed medical practice, his drinking and bouts of depression.

Baker claimed Johnson pinned her to the bed and told her "he was going to kill her then himself," according to the report written by Detective Ed Wallace with the Island County Sheriff's Office.

Johnson allegedly squeezed her neck so hard she couldn't breathe. The report states that Baker became light-headed but continued to squirm until Johnson fell off the bed. She crawled to the patio door, went outside and screamed for the neighbors to call 911.

Johnson followed her, got back on top of her and shoved a cloth belt from his robe into her mouth. He then covered the woman's nose and mouth with his hand, causing her to have trouble breathing and nearly pass out. She continued struggling, so he took the cloth belt from her mouth, wrapped it around her neck and attempted to choke her, according to Wallace's report. Johnson suddenly stopped and Baker ran for help.

In an interview with the detective, Johnson claimed he had been verbally aggressive with Baker because she was having an affair, but denied threatening to kill her or touching her at all, Wallace's report states.

Court documents filed in a civil case indicate that trouble started for Johnson early this year when his wife, a Langley resident, filed for divorce and accused him of marrying Baker without first divorcing her.

In addition, Johnson was sued by his former landlord and owes large amounts of money to the IRS, according to court documents.

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