A 28-year-old woman who says her therapist with Boulder’s Mental Health Partners exposed himself and asked her to spank him during a one-on-one counseling session is suing the agency for negligence.
The woman, who is identified in the lawsuit by her initials M.A., said the therapist started stalking her and grooming her almost immediately when she checked herself into the Warner House in October 2022 for treatment of a methamphetamine and fentanyl addiction.
The therapist, Jose Yepes, faces three felony charges and two misdemeanors in connection with the alleged assault, including two counts of unlawful sexual contact during a fake medical exam. He has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to stand trial in February.
The lawsuit was filed Monday in Boulder County District Court, and it names the Mental Health Center of Boulder County, also known as Mental Health Partners, as defendants. The lawsuit asks for an unspecified amount in damages.
“Stand up for yourself and what you believe in, period, because people like him will take and take and take and take until somebody checks them,” M.A. said in an interview with The Denver Post. “I don’t care if I’m a sick — quote, unquote — drug addict. I’m a human and I have feelings and I have rights.”
The Denver Post is not identifying the woman because she is a victim of an alleged sexual assault.
Since the alleged attack, M.A. has not returned to an in-patient treatment facility or sought therapy for her addiction and trauma. She’s still trying to get clean, she said.
“It’s affected me in every way. It sucks,” M.A. said. “It makes me feel like I can’t complete things. It makes me feel hopeless but there has to be a better way.”
M.A. has fought addiction since 2017, when she started using drugs after the death of her longtime partner. She has been in and out of treatment over the years, and in October 2020 admitted herself to the Warner House, a residential treatment facility in Boulder.
The day she arrived, Yepes, an unlicensed psychotherapist, and a female staff member met M.A. to search her bags for contraband. M.A. asked that the female staff member do the bag search because of privacy concerns, but Yepes insisted he do it, the lawsuit states.
Within days, Yepes started following M.A. around the facility and initiated conversations about her interests in art, design and computer programming, according to the complaint. The lawsuit says M.A. never mentioned those interests to him but frequently posted about them on her social media accounts.
“Even more disturbing, Yepes referenced and alluded to things that M.A. discussed during her therapy sessions, and M.A. began to suspect that Yepes had access to her confidential therapy records,” the lawsuit states. “Similarly, on multiple occasions, M.A. found Yepes lingering outside of her private bedroom. It was clear to M.A. that Yepes eavesdropped on her while she was in her room, as he also knew about things she had discussed alone in the privacy of her room.”
Yepes then insisted that M.A. meet him for one-on-one “spiritual cleansing” and “energy healing” sessions. In those sessions, Yepes dimmed lights, turned on an oil diffuser that filled the room with floral scents and played electronic trance music. He also massaged M.A. without consent, according to the lawsuit.
When M.A. tried to resist, Yepes scolded her and told M.A. that he could “disappear her,” the lawsuit said.
In one session, Yepes allegedly took off his pants and insisted that M.A. take off her shoes and walk on his back, according to the lawsuit. And in another encounter in a private room, he told M.A. that he no longer could contain his sexual and romantic feelings for her and described what he wanted to do, according to the lawsuit.
M.A. resisted him and later recorded a conversation with him on her iPad in which Yepes admitted to crossing boundaries, the lawsuit said. She reported Yepes’ behavior and sexual assault to a staff member but no one took steps to make sure Yepes left her alone, the lawsuit said. She left the facility the next day because she was scared of Yepes.
A Warner House spokesman told the Daily Camera newspaper in Boulder that Yepes was fired on Dec. 1, 2020 — within 24 hours of the staff receiving a complaint about him.
On Jan. 13, 2021, she met with a Boulder Police Department detective, and an arrest warrant was issued for Yepes on Jan. 19, 2021.
After Yepes’ arrest, the Mental Health Partners closed Warner House for eight weeks, the Daily Camera reported. The agency posted a statement on its website that said the decision was not made lightly. A spokeswoman told the Camera that she would not comment on whether the Yepes case led to the temporary closure but said, “MHP takes the safety and well-being of our staff and clients very seriously and we felt this swift action is the best option at the moment.”
Siddhartha Rathod, one of M.A.’s lawyers, said his firm is proud that M.A. is standing up for herself and other vulnerable people seeking treatment for addictions.
“Mental health centers and treatment centers have a responsibility to protect the individuals who come there for treatment,” he said. “They are a vulnerable population and that duty of protection should be heightened.”