Illustrations by Richard Watkins / AJC

Posing as a patient

What an undercover agent went through to bust sexually abusive doctor

Ryon Horne/AJC

Video: What undercover agent went through posing as patient

Swanee Owen was working undercover for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation when she walked into the Cumming office of Dr. Abbas Demetrios more than two decades ago. She had a problem with nail-biting, she said, and was hoping the doctor could help.

“He scanned me up and down with his eyes, and then told me to come back that night at 9 o’clock,” Owen said. “I had never in my life had a doctor tell me to come in at 9 o’clock at night. I told him OK.”

What started that day as a cover story turned into Georgia’s most successful prosecution of a predatory physician — a case that offers lessons even 20 years later about what it can take to build a case against an abusive doctor.

“The thing I found out working (on cases involving) doctors was that a lot of the district attorneys don’t want to prosecute them,” Owen said. “They do not think it will be a successful case. … A lot of the victims are very hesitant to come forward. They know that nobody is going to believe them, they are going to believe that doctor. Why would a doctor, who saves lives every day, instead be raping women?”

Ryon Horne / AJC

Swanee Owen, a retired agent for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, went undercover in the investigation of Dr. Abbas Demetrios in 1994.

When Owen was called into the Forsyth County case, she was part of a team of cops and prosecutors who weren’t intimidated. They had a credible report that the doctor had sexually assaulted a patient after sedating her, and they feared she might not have been the only victim.

Owen’s fellow agents were in the parking lot, listening to an audio recording device, as Owen entered the medical office and found that Demetrios was the only one there. The entire team knew the assignment would be both dangerous and loathsome for Owen.

“I knew I could cut it off, I knew the guys were out there,” Owen said. “But I also knew if I didn’t let him do this that he would never get arrested.”

The doctor said he would treat Owen’s nail biting through hypnosis, but she immediately noticed he also had two syringes in the exam room — which lab tests later confirmed were for sedation. After Owen pretended to be hypnotized, the doctor started making sexual comments, asking her about her first sexual experiences and telling her that when she woke up, the doctor would remind her of the person she had had sex with and that she would want to have sex with him.

AJC file

Dr. Abbas Demetrios listens to testimony from GBI agent Swanee Owen during his trial on sexual assault in 1994.

The session went on for about 90 minutes. Owen testified that Demetrios kissed her repeatedly, tried to get on the exam table with her, rubbed his erection against her knee and massaged her genital area. During the entire session, Owen said, he continued to make sexual comments and ask sexual questions, as she pretended to be under hypnosis.

“Then, he put his hand on my leg and ran his hand all the way up under my skirt and he ran it between my legs, and as soon as he did that I had him for sexual battery and I knew that,” Owen said.

The doctor was arrested that same night.

Once his arrest was publicized, other victims came forward. Owen and Kelly Crisp, a young assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case, eventually identified about 80 victims, ranging in age from 16 into the 60s. Prosecutors got one report of abuse from a woman in another state where the doctor had practiced, suggesting a long history of misconduct.

“It was pretty amazing just to hear all these stories that these women told us, just one woman after the next,” Owen said. “This man — it was like an organized rape center is what it was. He had people coming in to him that were asking for help and instead they were being sexually abused and some being raped.”

Until Owen walked into his office, he got away with it.

Demetrios denied the allegations throughout his trial. He was found guilty of 15 criminal counts, including two rapes.

The judge sentenced him in 1994 to 50 years. He is tentatively scheduled to be paroled at the end of this year.