This Utah woman says she was touched inappropriately during a cosmetic procedure. She’s the fourth to report the medical worker to police.

Draper police officials say they didn’t learn that other women had reported nurse practitioner Derrick Pickering to another police agency until recently.

Editor’s note: This story discusses allegations of sexual abuse.

For more than a year, Chelsi Rasmussen didn’t tell anyone that she believed a nurse practitioner had touched her in ways that she felt were inappropriate. She said she even tried to convince herself that nothing wrong had happened.

You’re fine, she would reason to herself. He was a medical professional.

Rasmussen went to Belle Medical’s Draper location in November 2021 for a cosmetic procedure where fat would be liposuctioned from other parts of her body and transferred to her breasts. She was so nervous about the treatment, she recalled in an interview, that she almost canceled — but after nursing her four children, it was something she wanted to do for herself.

She knew the nurse practitioner doing the procedure would touch her chest, and in places like her lower abdomen and inner thighs to extract fat. But she believed that nothing about the process required the medical professional, Derrick Pickering, to touch her genitals.

So she was shocked, she later recounted in a civil lawsuit, when she says Pickering moved her paper underwear to the side, touched her vagina and told her that “they did a good job sewing you up, little to no scarring.” The lawsuit also alleges that he told her, “it doesn’t look like you birthed four kids.” Rasmussen looked over to a nurse who was also in the room, according to her suit, but the woman had a laptop propped up and Rasmussen couldn’t see her face.

Pickering and the nurse then gave her more pain medication, the lawsuit states, and Rasmussen became less coherent.

Rasmussen said she felt traumatized after being touched without her consent, as she alleges in the lawsuit. She tried not to think about it. But she contemplated coming forward as time went on, she said, hoping that it might help others feel supported in reporting or talking about their own experience with an alleged sexual assault.

She reported Pickering to police last August, and filed a civil lawsuit a month later. “I was scared of reporting it because I didn’t want to affect his life,” she said. “It’s hard with a medical provider, feeling like I’m taking on the medical world. It feels like a big task. … It’s been a very lonely journey.”

But Rasmussen wasn’t alone. Three other women before her had gone to police and told officers that Pickering had touched them during medical procedures in ways they felt were inappropriate.

Twice, students told Utah Valley University’s campus police department that Pickering had inappropriately touched them during exams while he worked at the student clinic there. And a year before Rasmussen came forward, another woman who had a procedure done at Belle Medical reported him to Draper police. Officers were dismissive of these earlier reports, records and interviews show — either not fully investigating or telling the women they weren’t describing criminal misconduct.

Draper Lt. Michael Elkins said his department is now investigating Rasmussen’s report. The first case reported to the department became inactive and was closed because the woman who reported Pickering stopped communicating with the detective, he said. The department only learned of the UVU reports recently, he said, after state licensers shared with a detective that these complaints had previously been made.

For more than a year, The Salt Lake Tribune has been reporting on the challenges patients face when reporting sexual abuse allegations against health care professionals, including communication gaps between licensing officials and law enforcement. The Tribune generally does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault, but Rasmussen agreed to the use of her name.

Pickering’s attorney, Stephen Owens, requested in a six-page letter that The Tribune not publish this article, saying it would “irreparably ruin the reputation of an innocent and caring health care provider.”

“Derrick has been falsely accused,” Owens wrote. “Whether by an unfortunate misperception by a patient, or the motive for money or to promote oneself on social media, we do not know.”

Owens noted that Rasmussen is a social media “influencer” who posts about sexual assault awareness online as she is participating in the Mrs. Utah beauty pageant — and accused her of trying to “build her career” by tearing down the career of another. He said Pickering plans to counter-sue Rasmussen for defamation.

Pickering never touched Rasmussen’s vagina, Owens asserted, adding that she was covered the entire time during the procedure and that other medical workers were present. He said that it’s possible Rasmussen “misperceived” what happened.

“In general, when this procedure is performed, patients are given pain and anxiety medications that sometimes alter their memory,” Owens wrote. “The provider uses a long metal rod under the skin in quick actions with one hand. The other hand is directing where the long rod is going and making sure it does not hit any critical blood vessels, nerves, muscles or other structures.”

Owens said Pickering recognizes that women may feel uncomfortable when they come in for a procedure, because they are partially unclothed and are talking about ways they want to improve their bodies. It’s a vulnerable position for women to be in, Owens said, and Pickering tries to make small talk to put them at ease. He denies that Pickering ever made sexually related comments to Rasmussen.

“If Derrick said something like ‘it does not look like you birthed four kids’ (which he does not remember saying, but may have said), he would have done this as a compliment and would not have been referencing their vagina,” he said.

No criminal charges have been filed against Pickering, and his license as an advanced practice registered nurse is in good standing with Utah’s Division of Professional Licensing.

‘He took advantage of my religious beliefs’

For much of his decade-long career as a nurse practitioner, Pickering worked at Utah Valley University’s student health center. University officials said he began seeing patients there in February 2015.

Seven months later, a student reported him to campus police.

That student reported he had touched her inappropriately during a medical exam, according to a police report. It doesn’t appear the police investigated thoroughly — in a report, an officer wrote that he was unable to contact the alleged victim and closed the case, concluding it was a “misunderstanding due to cultural differences.”

Pickering was never informed of this report, Owens said, and “there was never any finding of which he is aware that he acted in a sexually inappropriate way.”

Less than a year later, C.C., a 27-year-old international student from Peru, came to the clinic in June 2016. She wanted to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and needed a medical exam.

C.C. recalled in an interview that she expected she would be getting a blood test, and that Pickering would check her lungs and her vision. The Tribune is identifying her by her initials to protect her privacy.

But she didn’t expect Pickering to do a breast or vaginal exam, she said. She said Pickering was insistent that these exams be done — and she recalls him telling her he wouldn’t sign her missionary paperwork unless she agreed to them. C.C. remembered Pickering telling her that because she was 27 years old, she needed these types of exams. (A copy of the missionary form posted online indicates that a pelvic exam was required for the health exam if the potential missionary was over 40 or had previous medical issues.)

C.C. didn’t want the exams and didn’t think she needed them, she said, but she felt she had no choice but to agree.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) C.C. said she felt nurse practitioner Derrick Pickering gave her an unnecessary breast and pelvic exam at the Utah Valley University student clinic in 2016.

She recalled that Pickering conducted the breast exam alone with her, and brought another medical worker into the room when he did a Pap smear. C.C. was on the verge of crying after the exam — and said she felt Pickering noticed she was upset.

“He gave me a bag of M&Ms,” she remembered, “and said, ‘Everything is going to be okay.’”

Owens, Pickering’s attorney, denied that his client refused to sign her paperwork unless she had a Pap smear done. He said the nurse practitioner followed appropriate medical standards and had “had no incentive other than to take good care of his patients,” and that it would have been “malpractice” for Pickering to not recommend that C.C. have a Pap smear given her age and that she may have been anemic. He said the Pap smear itself was done by the female nurse practitioner student who had been brought into the room.

Owens added that when Pickering was in school, he was trained by a female nurse practitioner at Brigham Young University’s health center who told him to always do these exams on women coming in for exams ahead of serving a mission.

C.C. said she realized that something may have been wrong with her exam in 2018, after she went to another nurse practitioner at the UVU health clinic for a premarital exam ahead of her wedding. She remembered explaining to that medical worker that she didn’t understand why she had needed a Pap smear years prior, in order to serve a mission. The health care worker, she said, told her that the exam wasn’t necessary.

“This person [Pickering] took advantage of me,” C.C. said in an interview. “He took advantage of my religious beliefs. I was 100 percent committed to” serving a mission.

C.C. reported him to police a few weeks later. But she said that when she went to law enforcement, she felt the officer thought she was lying or simply complaining.

“They didn’t validate me at all,” she said. “They didn’t treat me well.”

The investigator wrote in a report that when he contacted C.C., he asked her to clarify what she was reporting because, in his words, “I wasn’t seeing a criminal matter.”

C.C. told the officer that she felt the exam was unnecessary and she had been taken advantage of, according to his report. But the detective determined that “nothing inappropriate took place during the exam constituting a criminal case and that [she] was merely complaining that the exam should have never taken place.” He referred her to contact the director of Student Health Services.

A different officer did speak to Pickering a month later, according to the report. The report says that Pickering told the officer that he did not force the procedure and that he would have said that the exam was recommended for someone her age, not required or mandatory. While the exam is referenced several times in the police report, there is no mention that another medical professional did the Pap smear, as Owens said happened.

According to the report, the director of the medical center told police that “he was comfortable that his nurse practitioner followed established recommended professional medical guidelines after the consent was given.”

Scott Trotter, a spokesperson for Utah Valley University, said in a statement: “While we understand the public’s desire for information, we are unable to comment on police investigations or personnel matters.”

A prosecutor reviewed C.C.’s case, according to the police report, and declined to file charges. The case was closed and Pickering continued to work at the university for three more years, until he left that job in February 2021. There have been no sustained disciplinary actions taken against him by Utah Valley University, according to a public records response.

‘Nobody would help me’

Pickering also started working at Belle Medical in 2019, according to his attorney — where, according to his biography on the company website, he specializes in fat transfers to the breasts and buttocks and fat removal.

A patient who saw him there for liposuction on her lower stomach in January 2022 also later told police she felt she was touched inappropriately during the treatment.

H.S., who is being identified by her initials to protect her privacy, said she drifted in and out of consciousness during the painful procedure from the medication given to her. But during the process, she said, she felt Pickering grabbing her breast several times over the paper bra and fabric draped over her.

There was another medical worker in the room, H.S. remembered, but she said she felt Pickering may have positioned his body so that the other worker couldn’t see what his hand was doing.

“That’s all I remember,” she said.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Belle Medical in Draper.

She lost consciousness during the procedure, she said, and didn’t remember getting home. H.S. slept the rest of the day — which surprised her, she said, because her sister had gone to Belle Medical for a fat transfer breast augmentation and had been awake the entire time.

H.S. reported Pickering the next day, both to Belle Medical and Draper police.

She said she felt dismissed when she went to police. She said a detective thanked her for reporting Pickering and said “this will be really helpful if anybody else comes forward.”

There had already been two other reports: the two women before her who had gone to UVU police in Utah County. But no one at the Draper Police Department, in Salt Lake County, knew that then.

Elkins, the Draper lieutenant, said H.S.’s case was closed because she stopped communicating with the detective. H.S. said she did lose contact with the detective, and she couldn’t remember if she had sent her medical records over to the officer.

“Due to the lack of the participation of the victim at the time,” Elkins said, “we had insufficient information to screen the case and it was closed. During this investigation, we had no knowledge of the UVU victims.”

Information sharing between law enforcement agencies is a patchwork system in Utah. While there may be databases of police reports shared between agencies in a certain county, like Utah County has, sometimes that type of easily accessible information sharing doesn’t extend beyond county lines.

H.S. said she also wanted to sue Pickering, but couldn’t find a civil attorney to take on her case. “They all told me, ‘You’re not going to have a case,’” she remembered. ‘It’s your word against his. And there haven’t been any other reports.’”

H.S. ultimately signed a release agreement with Belle Medical, she said, which stops her from pursuing a civil lawsuit now. “I felt like I tried to get help,” she said, “and nobody would help me.”

Pickering denies touching H.S.’s breast, Owens said, and added that the staff member who was in the room during the procedure said she said she did not observe any inappropriate touching. He added that an investigation by the clinic found that “one of several cords attached to the surgical instrument may have gotten caught on her chest and that may be what she felt.”

Attorneys for Belle Medical did not respond to a request for comment.

The ‘courage’ to report

Rasmussen said she broke down in tears at the Draper police station after a detective told her about H.S.’s previous report. She learned about the women who reported to UVU police from a Tribune reporter.

Rasmussen is the only former patient who has sued Pickering in civil court. She has also named Belle Medical as a defendant, alleging the company failed to protect her from a medical professional who she says touched her for his own sexual gratification. Her lawsuit is pending.

Owens said these former patients’ concerns raise the question of whether any male health care provider can work in the area of women’s health.

“Derrick provided indicated medical care, with written consent, and with a female chaperone present, and is still asserted to have had an improper motive several years later,” he said. “This is an unfair burden to place upon health care providers.”

Elkins told The Tribune that Rasmussen’s criminal case was “a very active investigation” which will continue for some time as police sift through documents gathered through search warrants. He said that H.S. is now actively participating in their investigation, and a Draper detective has conducted additional interviews after learning about the UVU reports from state licensers.

Rasmussen said she has felt retraumatized and taken back to her own experience with Pickering each time she learned someone had reported before her. She was flooded with emotions: Rage that others had made similar reports, frustration that she felt little happened in response to those women.

“Not many even take the courage to go and report it to the police. That takes a huge amount of courage,” she said. For the other women “to do that, and have it fall on deaf ears and have nothing done about it ... that was absolutely heart-wrenching.”

Now, Rasmussen is waiting to see what will be done with her own report.