News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

DA dismisses charges against spa owner

The Deschutes County District Attorney’s Office confirmed on Tuesday morning, July 27, that they have declined to pursue criminal charges against Sisters spa owner Mike Boyle.

Boyle, owner of Hop in the Spa in Sisters, was arrested on Wednesday, June 30, on charges of harassment, sex abuse, and performing illegal massage. Boyle told The Nugget that he intends to sue the State of Oregon, contending that the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office filed a false affidavit in order to obtain a search warrant on his business, based on the allegation that he was practicing massage without a license.

“That just wasn’t the case,” Boyle told The Nugget. “None of it was true.”

“We’re seeking the affidavit from the person that filed the charges as well,” Boyle said.

The Nugget asked District Attorney John Hummel to clarify why charges were dropped. He replied via email:

“I declined to file criminal charges in this case because I determined the State could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Boyle touched the complaining witness in an area of her body that would constitute a crime,” Hummel stated. “I did report Mr. Boyle to the Oregon State Board of Massage Therapists for practicing massage without a license.”

In a subsequent interview, Hummel said that the witness whose complaint generated the sex abuse accusation was right to come forward, even though he determined that the touching she described did not cross the line into a criminal act.

“When she was touched, she felt that there was something wrong. This is not the way she was touched in previous massages,” Hummel said. “She saved potentially hundreds of other people from being massaged by somebody who wasn’t licensed. So, good for her.”

Boyle told The Nugget that Hop in the Spa has refunded approximately $5,000 since his arrest, to clients who had made reservations, but, he said, “we can’t even calculate the cost of this.” He is most concerned about damage to his personal reputation.

“Obviously, when you charge me with a sex offense without any cause — pretty serious for them to drop a charge like this,” he said.

“The real question is, how do we undo the damage,” he said. “This whole case was a matter of guilty-until-proven-innocent… Obviously trying to recoup my reputation is the most important thing.”

Jeff Van Laanen, Compliance and Licensing Manager with the Oregon Board of Massage Therapists (OBMT) confirmed last week that the OBMT is investigating the matter. He said that he is the investigator, and has been working closely with the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office and local authorities on the case.

The OBMT investigation is regulatory, not criminal.

“Because we are a regulatory agency, we have the ability to issue a fine for an offense,” he said. “That’s generally the only jurisdiction our agency has over an unlicensed practitioner.”

The investigation is based on statements made to law enforcement by complaining witnesses, Van Laanen said.

The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office reported after Boyle’s arrest that “investigators learned Boyle had performed massages on several women without a proper license.”

Boyle asserts that Hop in the Spa does not offer massage, and Van Laanen acknowledged that the spa doesn’t advertise or promote massage.

“In this case, Hop in the Spa was not an advertised massage facility,” he said.

However, Van Laanen said, he believes that what the witnesses described falls under the legal definition of massage.

“I think it’s clear from the evidence I have seen that it was massage,” Van Laanen said. “The descriptions of the experiences that they had definitely fall under the description of massage.”

State statutes provide a specific description of what constitutes massage and the “practice of massage,” which also involves the question as to whether there is compensation involved (see sidebar).

Van Laanen will “take the whole case” to the OBMT, with a report based upon his investigation; the Board itself will determine if any violations occurred and whether or not a sanction will be imposed. Van Laanen said the OBMT meets every other month with its next meeting in September and it is possible that the matter may come before the board then. It may take longer.

“I’m not inclined to rush this investigation,” he said.

Hummel told The Nugget that he wants the public to understand that each case is examined on its individual merits.

“My review is limited, fact-based to this case,” he said, “but we’ll always look at these cases carefully and charge them if there is sufficient evidence.”

 

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