Update: Prosecutors dismissed all charges against Ketchikan physical therapist Dennis Chua on Jan. 31, 2022. Department of Law spokesperson Patty Sullivan provided the following statement:
“Every case brought before the Department of Law is evaluated to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to support each element of the charge(s) beyond a reasonable doubt. After a careful review of all the evidence in this case, it was concluded there is not sufficient evidence to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt,” Sullivan wrote.
A Ketchikan physical therapist suspended from work earlier this year is charged with distributing child pornography. Police say the man viewed and forwarded sexually explicit videos of young children.
Court documents filed on Dec. 14 say the child pornography investigation by Ketchikan police started this spring over a report from Facebook administrators to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The questionable Facebook content from December 2020 had been relayed to an internet crimes police task force in Anchorage.
Ketchikan police Lt. Andy Berntson says local police got the call in May.
“That agency generated intelligence that they presented to us in the form of seized video documentation depicting child pornography,” Berntson said in a phone interview Tuesday.
Ketchikan police identified the suspect as Dennis Chua, a licensed physical therapist employed at Ketchikan’s hospital. Search warrants followed.
“Confirmed the suspect at his residence, interviewed him, seized multiple devices and then confirmed that multiple videos depicting child pornography had been downloaded or saved, received by this defendant, and then some had been distributed as well,” he said.
Chua was arrested on Dec. 14 and charged with possessing and distributing child pornography on two occasions. One of the sexually explicit videos involved a child estimated to be as young as eight, prosecutors allege, which was distributed a year ago. Chua allegedly shared a second five-minute sexually explicit video involving children as young as five in March 2021 with as many as 18 Facebook users.
Court documents say when Ketchikan police initially questioned the 47-year-old man in June, he denied viewing the sexually explicit videos.
Berntson says investigators at this point haven’t been able to figure out the identities of the victims. Court documents say the children appear to be from the Philippines.
“We always look at that, best we can, as far as worst-case scenario, them being produced closer to home. It’s a hard thing to be able to confirm, but those investigations don’t just stop. These things are then pursued by federal entities that try to identify these children and the production place of these videos,” Berntson said.
PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center hired Chua in 2018, according to his LinkedIn page.
An article on the nonprofit’s website describes the physical therapist as a married family man born in the Philippines giving him the advantage of speaking Tagalog and other languages to his patients. It says he’d worked in Saudi Arabia until 2015 and then came to the United States to practice.
A PeaceHealth spokesperson says the physical therapist had already been on administrative leave when he was arrested. She said he’d been out since June but declined to say when he was hired or whether he’s still on the payroll. She did say that the hospital was informed of the charges when Chua was arrested this month. He holds a state physical therapy license, which remains in good standing, the state’s Commerce Department confirmed on Tuesday to KRBD.
Nothing in the court documents indicates a connection between the alleged crimes and his medical practice. An online state licensing database shows no complaints against him as a physical therapist.
Berntson says Ketchikan police left no stone unturned in the seven-month investigation.
“The main thing is you want to be able to, when you make an arrest, or you forward charges, you want to make sure all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed, because these aren’t the kind of cases you want to mess up,” Berntson said.
He says child pornography offenses are among the highest-priority cases for the department, alongside sexual assault and homicide.
“Without consumers, there’s no reason to have producers, right? And so just being a participant in this organized crime process continues to victimize children,” Berntson said. “That’s not the kind of thing anybody should take lightly.”
Chua faces two charges of possessing child pornography and two charges of distributing child pornography. He has not been accused of producing the material. All four counts are felonies that carry lengthy prison terms if Chua is convicted.
The state’s Office of Special Prosecutions, a special unit that specializes in high profile cases or when there’s a potential conflict of interest, is handling the case. State prosecutors declined to explain why.
Public defender Clare Carlson, who is representing Chua, says her client has not been indicted by a grand jury and is presumed innocent unless proven otherwise. She says he intends to plead not guilty and contest the charges
Chua is free on $2,000 bail. But he’s due back in court later in the week.