City suspends license of Lawrence masseur charged with child sex crime; hearing set for this week

photo by: Douglas County Sheriff's Office

Shawn O'Brien, pictured in February 2020

The city clerk has suspended the license of a Lawrence massage therapist who has been charged with a child sex crime, and a citizen advisory board must soon provide guidance on whether to uphold that suspension.

Shawn Paul O’Brien, 48, was charged in February in Douglas County District Court with aggravated indecent liberties with a child in connection with multiple incidents that allegedly occurred seven or eight years ago, the Journal-World reported recently. The Journal-World also found that O’Brien had contracts with multiple University of Kansas women’s athletic teams beginning in 2015.

Among other concerns, “O’Brien is currently advertising ‘infant/child’ massage on his business website,” according to the agenda item for an upcoming hearing on O’Brien’s license.

The city ordinance on bodywork regulation states that applicants for licenses must be fingerprinted for a criminal record check, and the city clerk shall deny applicants whose records contain a conviction for a felony or misdemeanor “sexually-related offense.” The local code, which Lawrence city commissioners approved at a June 2018 meeting, does not prescribe action if a practitioner is charged with a sex crime but has not been convicted.

However, the city can impose an immediate license suspension “in cases where continued practice by a Bodywork Practitioner poses an imminent and continuing threat to public health, welfare, or safety,” the code stipulates. The city clerk must schedule a hearing with the Bodywork Advisory Board within two weeks from when a suspension orders go into effect; then the board, which comprises four licensed practitioners and one city resident, is to provide the city guidance on whether to uphold the suspension.

O’Brien is listed in state documents as the former owner of Kamehameha Massage LLC, 346 Maine St. Court documents also list the business name Medissage. He filed a certificate of cancellation with the Kansas secretary of state’s office on Feb. 4.

After the Journal-World reported on the police affidavit supporting O’Brien’s arrest, KU terminated contracts with O’Brien and launched an investigation, according to a March 5 statement from Chancellor Douglas Girod and Athletic Director Jeff Long. The city’s summary suspension of O’Brien’s license went into effect the same day, according to the BAB’s agenda.

Contracts with O’Brien, which the Journal-World obtained through a request under the Kansas Open Records Act, show that at various times from 2015 on, O’Brien worked with the Kansas women’s basketball and tennis teams, as well as the softball and soccer teams. Girod and Long said in their statement that “Though still in the early stages of (the investigation), we are deeply troubled by what we have learned so far.”

As the Journal-World reported on March 1, O’Brien’s charges stem from a girl’s accusation that on multiple occasions, he touched her sexually under the guise of a “massage.” She shouldn’t tell anyone what happened because massages were “really expensive” and she was “lucky” to get one for free, O’Brien allegedly told her.

“Although the case is still pending in Douglas County District Court, the allegation is of such a serious nature that Mr. O’Brien should not be licensed to act as a Bodywork Practitioner” while his charges are pending, City Clerk Sherri Riedemann wrote in the BAB’s agenda item.

Agendas going back to the BAB’s inaugural May 2019 meeting indicate that the board has not yet held any hearings for appeals of license denials, suspensions, revocations or other disciplinary actions.

The board, and the city’s ordinance that established it, were spurred in part by a 2015 bust of a massage parlor. The owners were eventually convicted of crimes related to trafficking women and sales of sex.

Kansas is one of just a few states that does not regulate the massage industry at a statewide level, so the Lawrence Police Department, Douglas County district attorney’s office and other groups made a push for the Lawrence City Commission to take action. Several other cities, including Wichita, Lenexa and Overland Park, had already established their own local regulations.

O’Brien was booked into the Douglas County Jail on Feb. 7 and released the same afternoon on $25,000 surety bond, the Journal-World has reported. He was formally charged on Feb. 21.

The hearing on O’Brien’s license is set for 1 p.m. Wednesday, March 18 in the City Commission room at Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. The next hearing in his criminal case is scheduled for May 20, online court records indicate.

“If Mr. O’Brien is not convicted of the crime with which he is charged City Staff has the authority to reinstate his Bodywork Practitioner License,” according to the agenda.

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Related coverage

March 5, 2020: Lawrence masseur accused of child sex crime had contract with KU women’s teams, university leaders say

March 1, 2020: Lawrence masseur masked molestation as massage, told girl she was ‘lucky’ to get one free, affidavit alleges

Feb. 7, 2020: Lawrence man arrested on suspicion of aggravated indecent liberties with a child