The sign at the front of Johnston Chiropractic Health Center is inviting.
The purpose of our clinic is to support as many people as possible in their quest for health & to educate them about chiropractic so they may, in turn, educate others.
On the sidewalk across the street, Rebekkah Williamson, 24, held up a sign Oct. 11 that tells a different story: “Coercion is not consent.”
“I felt uncomfortable, I felt uneasy, but I trusted his professional opinion and I trusted his practice,” Williamson said. “I trusted him.”
The chiropractic center, located on 1405 NW 13th St., permanently closed Oct. 11 following sexual abuse allegations made against 67-year-old owner John Johnston.
Between November 2020 and January 2021, a female patient accused Johnston of sexual assault under the guise of medical treatment, a report from the Florida Department of Health read.
She visited the office about nine times under Johnston’s care for treatment related to migraines and hip pain, the report read. In January, the victim went to her last appointment where she was taken to a private room and told to change into boxers in front of Johnston.
The report read Johnston went under the victim's clothes and touched her breasts and genitals.
Johnston would become flirtatious during each of the victim’s visits, especially the last one, the report read.
“What do you think we should do about that,” Johnston said in a suggestive tone according to the report.
The victim changed back into her clothes with Johnston present in the room. That day she reported the sexual misconduct to the Gainesville Police Department.
On March 19, Johnston was charged with sexual battery of an adult. Later, on June 28, the state barred Johnston from treating female patients. He is still allowed to treat male clients.
Johnston was scheduled to appear in court on Oct. 26. He did not return requests for comment after five phone calls between Oct.11 and Oct. 14.
As the investigation continues, more patients of Johnston have shared their experiences under his medical care.
Catherine Music, a 42-year-old UF Health employee, went to Johnston’s practice for an appointment over seven years ago and said she tells anyone who is thinking of chiropractic treatment to look elsewhere.
Like the victim in the report, Music was taken to a private room and asked if he could adjust her hips. Agreeing, Music didn’t realize his hands would be underneath her underwear.
She felt violated. When adjusting her upper body, his hands cupped her breasts.
“I should have just got up and walked away but when you’re in that setting, you’re questioning is this right?” she said. “You know he’s a doctor so your brain is going every which way.”
She wonders if she had returned, if he would have gone further. She never gave him a next time.
Music said the victim might have gone back because she could have paid for multiple sessions at once. If she had done that, she might have felt more inclined to go back even if the chiropractor made her feel violated.
Protest organizer Rebekkah Williamson remembers walking into Johnston’s office for the first time in 2015 and feeling overwhelmed.
That year, Williamson got into a car accident and injured her back. After receiving care from Johnston, she said she began to question his know-it-all demeanor.
Coming from a medical family, she trusted his professional opinion and believed it was necessary for him to practice under her clothes. With new care providers, she realized too late that her adjustments could have been done above clothing.
Williamson was under Johnston’s medical care four times a week for a year. In the past two years, she said she visited the office less than ten times.
Six years later, Williamson's pain has gotten worse.
“I really believed that the pain that I was experiencing was just so much more than what he could fix,” she said. “I put a lot of trust that it wasn't working because of my body not because of his lack of care.”
On Oct. 11, Williamson, her fiance and a fellow protester created signs to protest Johnston’s continued medical care with three goals in mind: to relay to the public Johnston’s accused misgivings, to remove his chiropractic license and to send Johnston to jail.
Honks of encouragement made them raise their posters higher.
Thirty minutes after the Oct. 11 protest started, a text was sent out to all of Johnston Chiropractic Health Center patients alerting them of the closing of the office and opening of a new chiropractic facility, Florida Spine & Injury located at 7545 West University Ave. Suite A and owned by James Worthington.
Worthington, who worked with Johnson in the same office, said he had no knowledge of Johnston’s alleged abuse. Worthington said his new business has no affiliation with Johnston.
After learning of the allegations made against Johnston, Worthington left the office.
Worthington thought Johnston could be a bit too friendly with clients to the point of flirting, but never saw it cross into the territory of sexual assault. After reading the report, he stands by the victim.
Isabelle Gonzalez, a 19-year-old UF biology sophomore, said she had a good experience with the office staff and Worthington in September after her back pain increased this year.
“He was very respectful,” Gonzalez said. “Always explained everything he was doing before he did it and asked me how I was feeling throughout the entire experience to make sure that nothing hurt.”
Gonzalez remembers lying on her back and her shirt rolling up. Worthington proceeded to push her shirt back down and continue his chiropractic care. Her positive experience continued for her three visits where she said every adjustment was made above clothing.
However, Gonzalez can’t imagine returning to the office if Johnston was somehow involved. She is considering going to Worthington’s new practice because of her positive experience with him.
Nicole Montgomery, a 40-year-old Gainesville resident, was the third protester at the office. She has never received treatment from Johnston’s facility, but after hearing about the accusations of sexual assault, memories resurfaced of her own.
Words like “felony sexual assault” and “sexually abusing patient” circled the mugshot of Johnston on her sign.
“It really pisses me off that someone thinks that in a position of authority and power and with trust that they can physically and emotionally do harm,” she said. “It takes a lot of trust for somebody to be able to be that vulnerable with a stranger ... they take an oath to do no harm.”
Contact Isabella at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Ad_Scribendum.
Isabella Douglas is a second-year journalism major and the criminal justice reporter for The Alligator's Metro desk. She previously worked as a news assistant for The Alligator's University team and as a contributing writer for the New Tampa & Wesley Chapel Neighborhood News. When she isn't reporting, she can be found reorganizing her bookshelf and adding books to her ever-growing TBR.