A former Florida State Hospital psychologist is accused of having sexual relations with a patient he was treating there, then marrying her while he was still married to someone else.
The allegations against Jeffrey Lynn Benoit are contained in an administrative complaint filed by the Florida Department of Health on July 8.
The department is asking the state Board of Psychology to either permanently revoke or suspend Benoit’s license, and/or impose other sanctions, such as restricting his practice, imposing an administrative fine, issuing a reprimand, placing him on probation, and demanding corrective actions, continuing education classes “and/or any other relief that the Board deems appropriate.” Benoit has the right to a hearing on the requested action.
According to the Department of Health, the woman Benoit allegedly married was committed to Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee in February 2008, after being arrested on two arson charges in Jackson County.
In those incidents, she allegedly had set a bed on fire in a hotel room on Oct. 22, 2007, and did the same on Oct. 24, 2007 at a different hotel.
An evaluation carried out after the alleged incidents determined she incompetent to proceed to trial, due to mental illness. She was assigned to Benoit’s care shortly after being admitted to the hospital in Chattahoochee in February.
The Department of Health wrote that the woman was diagnosed with depression with psychotic features, and post traumatic stress disorder.
After several treatment sessions, the department alleges Benoit began making sexually suggestive remarks to the woman. The department also alleges that one day he locked his office door and kissed her.
Beginning in or around May 2008, the department alleges Benoit began having sexual relations with her in his office at Florida State Hospital, while she was still his patient.
He allegedly brought her gifts and told her he was not married, although he was, according to the administrative complaint.
In May, the woman’s recovery team determined that she was competent to proceed with her court case. A hearing was set for June 13, 2008.
The day before the hearing was to take place, Benoit wrote to the court advising of the woman’s ongoing need for treatment, her current anxiety and condition, adding he felt she was still competent to proceed.
But later the same day, Benoit sent a second letter to the court, saying he felt she was not competent to proceed. No hearing was held on June 13.
A hearing was conducted about a month later, however, on July 15, 2008, and she was determined not guilty by reason of insanity in the Jackson County arson cases.
She was ordered committed, and remained at Florida State Hospital.
The department complaint states that, a few days later, Benoit moved out of the house he shared with his wife, telling her he wanted a divorce and that he wanted to keep the matter quiet.
Around the same time, in late July, Benoit’s unit supervisor asked him to stop treating the alleged victim because “he seemed to be losing objectivity” with regard to the patient. She was transferred to the care of another psychologist.
In his last progress notes on the woman that month, Benoit noted he believed she was ready for discharge.
In August 2008, he wrote to the woman’s attorney and advised that he’d been taken off her treatment team, and wouldn’t be able to write a report to the court recommending discharge.
He also told the attorney that he and the woman’s current recovery team disagreed on her suitability for discharge. He asked the lawyer to submit paperwork to the court on the woman’s behalf seeking her discharge.
Later in August, Benoit allegedly sent at e-mail about her upcoming competency hearing to his superior at Florida State Hospital, the same individual who had taken him off the woman’s case.
Benoit indicated in his e-mail that a court date had been set in her case and that he would be required to testify. He asked permission to meet with the woman twice before the hearing “for a duration of one to one-and-one-half hours for each meeting to evaluate (the woman’s) mental status and functioning.”
The superior wrote back, asking if Benoit was the woman’s private psychologist. Benoit said no, but reminded his superior of his role as a past evaluator and treatment provider.
The next day, the superior denied Benoit’s request to meet with and evaluate the woman, pointing out that Benoit was no longer part of the treatment team.
Benoit was also ordered not to testify at the hearing, according to the complaint. In spite of that, he testified at the September hearing “against the orders of FSH,” according to the complaint, and offered an opinion that did not match her newly assigned team’s analysis.
He said in that hearing that she should be discharged. Her current psychologist said she wasn’t ready to leave the facility.
The hearing judge decided to release the woman, but with the understanding that she would follow the terms of a conditional release plan.
After Benoit testified against orders, Florida State Hospital took disciplinary actions, removing him from all resident contact and responsibilities the next day.
The woman was released the day after that, diagnosed with major depressive disorder, recurrent and severe, with psychotic features in partial remission, and with prolonged post traumatic stress disorder.
The day of her release, another FSH employee reported seeing Benoit at the woman’s home.
Department of Health investigators also learned that Benoit had sent the woman’s mother a cashier’s check for $1,400, to help pay for rent and other expenses.
When confronted about his visits and the check, Benoit admitted having visited the woman several times after she was discharged but denied having sent the check.
Eventually, he admitted giving the money and said he did so “just out of the kindness of my heart.” He said he had no personal relationship with the former patient.
Benoit resigned from Florida State Hospital on Oct. 1, 2008. His notice of separation reflects that he was the subject of an FSH investigation at the time his employment ended, and that he was resigning in lieu of dismissal.
Before long, Benoit and the woman were living together.
The Department of Health complaint states that a warranty deed reflects Benoit and the woman bought a home in Marianna for $377,000 in February 2009.
A certificate of marriage from Houston County, Ala., shows they were married in Dothan on March 26, 2009, while Benoit was still legally married to his first wife. His first marriage was not dissolved until October 2009.
As of June 3, 2009, the woman and Benoit were no longer in a steady relationship. According to the department, she stated she was afraid of Benoit. However, the two reconciled and separated at least once after that time.
She gave birth to a son in March of this year, with Benoit named as the father on the birth certificate.
Both Benoit and the woman were arrested on domestic violence charges in April of this year.
In asking the Board of Psychology for sanctions against Benoit, the Department of Health cited sexual misconduct, claiming the woman was incapable of giving “valid, informed, free consent to sexual activity” with Benoit.
The department alleges Benoit violated Florida statutes by “committing acts on or with (the patient) defined ... as sexual misconduct.
The department also alleges Benoit made “misleading, deceptive, untrue or fraudulent representations in the practice of the profession of psychology.” The department cited several instances in support of that allegation. It claims Benoit was guilty of those accusations by contacting the woman’s attorney and asking that she file papers in court seeking the woman’s discharge, then denying having done so; and by being untruthful with the hospital’s legal services investigator about the nature of his relationship with the woman.
The department also alleges Benoit “failed to meet minimum standards of performance in professional activities” in that he allegedly committed sexual misconduct with the patient; gave her gifts while she was a patient and resident at FSH; by testifying that the woman should be released even though she was no longer his patient and he had been ordered not to testify; by sending a check for $1,400 to her mother for rent and other expenses; by going to the woman’s home on multiple occasions after she was discharged; by living with her; by buying a home with her; by marrying her while he was still married to someone else; and by being physically and verbally abusive to her.
By Deborah Buckhalter of the Jackson County Floridian