Georgia psychotherapist James “Cliff” Tillery sentenced to two years prison for sex assault on patient

LAWRENCEVILLE — A former Lilburn psychotherapist entered a surprise guilty plea this week to sexual assault charges involving a patient, costing him two years in prison and his professional license.

Cliff Tillery, 46, pleaded guilty in Gwinnett Superior Court on Monday to two counts of sexual assault by a practitioner of psychotherapy, just as jury selection in a retrial of the case was scheduled to begin, said Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Taylor.

Tillery will serve eight years, probation following his prison stint, said Taylor.

“I’m very pleased that he finally admitted that what he did to the victim was wrong,” Taylor said.

Tillery, 46, admitted to coercing the victim — a Gwinnett preschool teacher with a history of alcohol and sexual abuse — into sexual activity more than 20 times at his Norcross office in 2007. She paid $85 per hour for most sessions.

Tillery was originally tried in March, when a judge declared a mistrial after jurors couldn’t reach a unanimous decision after deliberating for nearly two days.

The charges carried a possible 60-year prison term, Taylor said.

Tillery’s defense attorney, Dylan Wilbanks, did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday. Taylor said she’d been contacted by the defense Friday with word that Tillery was considering a plea deal.

Special conditions of Tillery’s sentencing will require him to register as a sex offender, avoid the victim and her family, and undergo psychosexual evaluations, Taylor said.

Tillery surrendered his professional license Monday and won’t be allowed to treat patients in any capacity while on probation, she said.

Tillery had spent more than 20 years in the field before his July 2008 arrest. He worked with drug addicts, sex addicts and alcoholics.

Both parties were married with children at the time.

The 32-year-old victim told the Daily Post on Wednesday she felt the sentencing was “a little lenient” but sends “a huge message for anybody in a position of power.” She feels that Tillery brainwashed her into acts she wouldn’t have considered otherwise.

The Daily Post does not identify victims of sex abuse.

“I think he knew he couldn’t win at trial,” she said of Tillery.

As for going forward, she said, “I will continue to advocate for victims. I feel like I have a whole new purpose now.”

Prior to sentencing, Tillery apologized to the victim and her family, Taylor said.

Source: Josh Green, “Therapist admits to sex assaults, gets two years,” June 23, 2010.

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8 responses to “Georgia psychotherapist James “Cliff” Tillery sentenced to two years prison for sex assault on patient

  1. I filed complaints w/ FL DOH and FDLE in March against a LMHC for sexual abuse which occurred over 10 months with sexual misconduct occurring over up to 6yrs before. Although there was a taped conversation with LMHC and me arranged by police during a therapy session in which he admitted to the abuse and was currently under therapy himself on how to get over the harm he had caused me. My Ass’t State Att’y said he would only go on with a PTI and drop the case if I didn’t accept that. Although he believed there was sexual misconduct, he didn’t believe it indicated “sexual offense”. LMHC also maintained few session notes from 2006 and none for 2008 yet continued t0 file BC for sessions including sexual actions, collected my co-pay and also billed BC for dates with no sessions at all. State attorney’s office which believed events yet did not arrest or charge LMHC telling me “would you like your picture in a mug shot or your prints taken?” And, when asked about the possible insurance fraud, I was told the State can’t charge him “for poor record keeping”. The DOH which has conducted its own investigation & suspended license in July ’08 never reported this case as a felony to the State. My attorney & I believed (at a minimum) he faced 2 counts of second degree felony. I have not seen the final conditions of the PTI; it was to include voluntary permanent revocation of license and never to work in field of psychology. Once term of Pre-Trail Intervention & parole time is over (expected less than 2 years) record is expunged…and remember he was never arrested or charged. FL law 491.0112 has belittled the mental health patient by telling me I would not a credible witness because of my disorder and because of the treatment modalities of that disorder. (doesn’t trust mentally ill testimony vs. explicit confession by therapist)! This law by FL 491.0112 is a felony and carries jail time. In real time, it’s more efficient for the State to get a case off a desk than to work the practice of justice under the law. —Since this abuse began, I’ve had 2 brief hospitalizations, 2 para-suicides and a treatment of ECT’s and now diagnosed with PTSD. His reprimand doesn’t come close to the egregious acts he committed. It does one case off the desk.

  2. I had the unfortunate experience of working with this guy at the start of his career. He objectified his patients and there was always a sense that something was going on with the fenale patients he worked with. I know of at least one colleague who reported him to the license board years before this incident occurred. Unbelievably he worked with a sexual addiction tract of the treatment program we worked at. I hope his other victims will step forward and keep this perpetrator where he belongs–in prison for the rest of his life!

  3. The colleague that reported him was clearly mentally unstable, and is probably you, Sue.

  4. This whole story sounds like a woman who wanted to cheat on her husband and when he found out, she used the “victim” story to ease the situation. I was abused as a pre-teen and as an adult am strong enough to accept responsibility for my own actions. I could never be “coerced” into sleeping with someone. I am sure that the mistrial was because it all seems a little fishy. I think someone should have looked into this woman’s personal life to see if she was cheating with others and has a past history in this type of behavior.

    • Would that make it right on the part of the therapist? It’s a felony in the state of Georgia for a psychotherapist to have sexual contact with a patient. Let’s take for granted that the patient went to Tillery for help, not sex. And let’s take for granted that he did provide some degree of help. It obviously wasn’t enough to outweigh the harm he did. The law recognizes that people who seek out mental health services are a vulnerable group. So it does not matter what HER motives are/were. He had a duty to her and he failed it. He exploited her vulnerability to get his dick wet.

      • melissacjackson

        I agree that regardless of the fact that she may have seduced him as many patients come on to their therapist and or other figures they view as authority, he still should have known better. However, if it was an affair. … only a license loss because of oath and ethics breach is just. An affair isn’t rape and doesn’t deserve prison or a sex offender status.

      • In Georgia, it’s a felony for a psychotherapist to engaged in sex with a patient. It is not prosecuted as rape, but sexual exploitation. Nineteen states have such laws and bills are pending in several other states now as I write this.

        Sue

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