Whidbey Island skin doctor on the lam after jumping bail
By JESSIE STENSLAND
Whidbey News Times Assistant editor
September 30, 2011 · 3:30 PM
A 51-year-old Whidbey Island dermatologist accused of choking his girlfriend is wanted on a $100,000 arrest warrant after he didn’t appear at a court hearing this week.
In addition, a deputy prosecutor filed a motion to hold Dr. Donald “Russell” Johnson in jail without bail because he alleged violated a court order by sending an email to his girlfriend, according to court documents.
Johnson was scheduled to be in court Monday for arraignment on two counts of assault in the second degree and a single count of “harassment/threats to kill,” but didn’t show up. Instead, the Island County Prosecutor’s Office received a fax from Whidbey General Hospital stating that Johnson was at the hospital.
The judge agreed to set the hearing over until the next day, but again Johnson didn’t appear. Judge Vickie Churchill agreed to issue a $100,000 warrant for Johnson’s arrest, though prosecutors believe he may be at another hospital in Skagit County.
The prosecutor’s office isn’t aware of any attorney who may be representing Johnson.
Senior Deputy Prosecutor Eric Ohme filed a motion in Island County Superior Court Tuesday to revoke Johnson’s pretrial release and order him held without bail. In a supporting declaration, Ohme notes that the court previously set his bail at $75,000 and ordered that he not have contact with the alleged victim, Marianne Baker. In addition, a judge approved a separate “domestic violence no contact order” barring Johnson from contacting Baker.
But on Sept. 14, Baker logged into her email account and discovered that Johnson had sent her an email message, according to a “computer examination narrative” by Detective Ed Wallace with the Island County Sheriff’s Office. Baker said she was too afraid to open the email, but gave Wallace permission to do so. The message said “please take any photos that show you and me on Facebook down.”
Wallace obtained a search warrant on Johnson’s Gmail account. The detective surmised that Johnson sent the email to Baker from his Cornet Bay home, though a court order barred him from being at the home.
Johnson was charged with the three felony counts Sept. 2. The charges were all filed as domestic-violence related. If convicted of the charges, he could face from 13 to 17 months in prison under the standard sentencing range.
This is the second time this month that police have been looking for Johnson. The Island County Sheriff’s Office released a press release four weeks ago asking the public for help in locating Johnson after he was accused of assaulting Baker at their home on Cornet Bay. He was found and arrested when he returned to the home on Sept. 7.
According to the affidavit of probable cause, Baker accused Johnson of attacking her on the morning of Sept. 6. She told detectives that things had been tense between the two of them because of problems with his failed medical practice, his drinking and bouts of depression.
Baker claimed Johnson pinned her to the bed and told her “he was going to kill her then himself,” according to the report written by Wallace.
Johnson allegedly squeezed the woman’s neck so hard she couldn’t breathe. The report states that Baker became light-headed but continued to squirm until Johnson fell off the bed. She crawled to the patio door, went outside and screamed for the neighbors to call 911.
Johnson followed her, got back on top of her and shoved a cloth belt from his robe into her mouth. He then covered the woman’s nose and mouth with his hand, causing her to have trouble breathing and nearly pass out. She continued struggling, so he took the cloth belt from her mouth, wrapped it around her neck and attempted to choke her, according to Wallace’s report. Johnson suddenly stopped and Baker ran for help.
In an interview with the detective, Johnson claimed he had been verbally aggressive with Baker because he thought she was having an affair, but denied threatening to kill her or touching her at all.
Court documents filed in Island and Skagit counties indicate that Johnson has been under a great deal of stress since his wife, a Langley resident, filed for divorce early this year. The divorce filing claimed Johnson married Baker without divorcing his wife. The court records include a copy of an online marriage license search in Skagit County that shows the couple have a marriage license number, but no marriage date. An unrelated lawsuit in Island County Superior Court alleged that Baker fraudulently professed to be “Marianne Johnson” when she and Dr. Johnson signed lease documents for his Coupeville clinic.
This summer Johnson abruptly closed his popular dermatology clinics and skin-care spas in both Coupeville and Anacortes, leaving patients without access to their records and struggling to find medical help. The Washington State Medical Quality Assurance Commission is investigating Johnson for alleged patient abandonment.
In addition, Johnson was sued by his former landlord and owes large amounts of back taxes to the IRS, according to court documents.
Contact Whidbey News Times Assistant editor Jessie Stensland at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360.675.6611 ext. 5056.