Memphis psychiatrist who used riding crop on patients now faces new charges
By Brett Kelman
October 27, 2019
A Memphis-area psychiatrist whose license was suspended last year for using a riding crop on patients could now lose her license again due to an ongoing dispute with state health licensing officials.
Dr. Valerie Augustus, who runs Christian Psychiatric Services in the suburb of Germantown, was forced to close her clinic last June after a medical discipline trial proved to the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners that she had used a riding crop or a whip on at least 10 patients. The clinic was permitted to re-open six months later after Augustus agreed to professional probation, but she continued to fight the case in court.
Officials now allege that Augustus violated that probation agreement by not participating in therapy sessions and not paying $50,000 to reimburse the state for the cost of her prior trial. As a result, the Tennessee Department of Health filed new charges against Augustus, accusing her of violating a board order and “unprofessional, dishonorable or unethical conduct.”
The new charges, filed in September, were revealed by a public records request filed by The Tennessean this month. Charging documents state that Augustus is scheduled for a hearing on Jan. 15 and her license may be suspended or revoked if convicted.
Augustus, 57, ran her clinic for 17 years without any discipline issues before her license was suspended last year. A board order states that, in addition to using the whip and riding crop on patients, Augustus kept the items “displayed in her office” and “compared her patients to mules.”
The government’s attorney, Paetria Morgan, argued at the medical discipline trial that Augustus hit her patients if they did not lose weight or exercise. In addition to the whip and riding crop, Morgan alleged Augustus hit patients with a “four-foot stick of bamboo.”
“Her defense is that she hit them in jest,” Morgan said. “When did hitting become funny? Hitting isn’t hilarious. Hitting isn’t helpful. Hitting isn’t healing.”
Augustus appealed this ruling in Davidson County Chancery Court, arguing she touched some patients with the riding crop but “always in a joking manner.” Augustus said in court filings that the whip and riding crop were a gift from a patient who was trying to lose weight and found inspiration about self-control in the Bible verse Psalm 32:9: “Do not be like the horse or the mule which has no understanding but must be controlled by a bit and bridge.”
Augustus denied ever using the crop to punish or strike anyone.
“With the patients who saw humor in the riding crop, Dr. Augustus would lightly tap them with the crop in a joking manner if they had not followed through with their self-imposed exercise goal,” the psychiatrist argued in court documents.
Court Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle upheld the board’s order in July. August then appealed that decision, and the case remains pending.
Augustus’ attorney, Darrell Baker Jr., did not respond to requests for comment.