By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The McKinney doctor who slashed a man's throat during a 1996 barroom brawl has escaped a felony conviction, but he is no longer allowed to practice medicine in Texas.
The Texas State Board of Medical Examiners indefinitely suspended Dr. John Hargett's medical license because of Hargett's "intemperate use of alcohol or drugs," according to an agreed order that took effect August 9.
The suspension follows Hargett's May acquittal on an attempted murder charge stemming from an April 1996 fight at Chris' Blue Tees sports bar in McKinney, where the 14-year veteran family practitioner slashed the throat of McKinney truck driver Kerry Recer after a long evening of drinking.
On May 24, 1997, a Collin County jury deliberated seven hours before it found Hargett not guilty on the felony charge. As part of the four-day trial, Hargett admitted to slashing Recer's throat, but argued he had acted in self-defense.
Hargett, whose history of alcohol abuse was first reported by the Dallas Observer last fall ["Under the knife," September 26, 1997], must complete a 96-hour inpatient psychiatric evaluation before the board will consider whether to stay or lift the suspension, says Julian Rivera, a staff attorney with the board.
If Hargett seeks to regain his license, he must also provide the board with medical records detailing the evaluation.
"Such records, reports, and evaluations shall specifically address any potential or actual impairment of [Hargett] due to substance abuse or an organic mental condition, and shall address any tendencies toward compulsive behavior, relapse, recidivism, or recurrence," states the seven-page order.
Hargett, who agreed to the terms of the order to "avoid the expense of litigation," neither admitted to nor denied the board's findings about his substance abuse. Instead, Hargett maintained that he "may not be" an alcoholic, though he told the board that he became sober on June 3, 1997, according to the order.
William Bratton, who represented Hargett on the criminal charge and appeared with him before the board, could not be reached for comment last week. A call to Hargett's McKinney home was not returned.
As part of its investigation, the board outlined Hargett's history of substance abuse, which includes a 1967 drunk driving conviction and a 1977 conviction for public intoxication.
The board also determined that in 1992 Hargett was diagnosed with and treated for alcohol dependency at Charter Hospital of Dallas; at the Charter Lakeside facility in Memphis, Tennessee; and at the Serenity Park facility in Little Rock, Arkansas.
The board opted to suspend Hargett's license rather than seek the more severe penalty of permanent revocation, which requires that a contested hearing be held before a state administrative law judge. Rivera, who says the board suspends or revokes an average of 50 medical licenses a year, would not provide any additional comment on the board's actions.
"The public statement of why the board did what it did was presented in the public order," Rivera says.
In the meantime, a wrongful death suit filed against Hargett in 1994 by the family of Robbie Moon is still pending in Collin County District Court. Robbie Moon died of a brain hemorrhage and heart failure after she sought treatment for severe headaches at the North Texas Medical Center, where Hargett had staff privileges. (The hospital is now called Columbia Medical Center.) The Moon family's lawsuit claims, in part, that Hargett's "impaired condition created the likelihood of serious patient injury."
"We're pressing on with the civil litigation," says Moon family attorney Brian Eberstein, who adds that the case is still in the discovery phase. A trial date has not been set.