OMAHA — The case was #MeToo meets masseur.
Monday, the case met injustice.
So said the women who were sexually assaulted by former Omaha massage therapist Christopher Sampson. Monday, five Omaha-area women sat in court, a row behind Sampson, and listened to his sentence: the equivalent of two to three years in prison for three counts of sexual assault.
Sampson, 44, had faced up to 35½ years in prison, real time. Douglas County District Judge Peter Bataillon sentenced Sampson after a plea bargain in which he pleaded to one count of first-degree sexual assault, one count of attempted first-degree sexual assault and one misdemeanor. After he serves the prison time, the judge ruled, Sampson must serve a year of probation.
Bataillon gave no reason for his sentence; he simply said he considered all factors.
“Well, that was disappointing,” said Anne, a 35-year-old domestic violence advocate whom Sampson inappropriately touched in 2017.
“Ridiculous,” said Rae, a teacher who says she was wrongly touched by Sampson during a 2010 massage.
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine agreed. He said Monday that his office most likely will appeal Bataillon’s sentence by arguing that it was excessively lenient. Kleine noted that Sampson had been placed on probation for assaulting a client in 2016, only to offend again.
“These crimes certainly deserved more than a minimal sentence,” Kleine said.
Asked if anything good came out of Monday’s sentencing, Anne, who was seven months pregnant when she was sexually assaulted by Sampson, shrugged.
“I guess it’s better than no time?” she said, incredulously.
No time was what Sampson received the first time he was charged after a client went to authorities accusing him of touching her vagina. In 2016, a 20-year-old went to an Omaha police station the day that Sampson touched her vagina over her underwear. Sampson was charged with third-degree sexual assault.
Omaha City Prosecutor Matt Kuhse’s office reduced the charge to disturbing the peace — and Sampson was sentenced to six months probation. State regulators allowed him to keep his massage license.
A few months after his probation concluded, a Council Bluffs woman came forward, alleging that Sampson digitally penetrated her during a massage in May 2017. In April 2019, The World-Herald wrote about how that case was dragging through court.
Following that publication, three more women came forward. A 35-year-old woman saw the report on her phone and told prosecutors that Sampson had touched her vagina over her underwear. He did so while explaining that he had been charged with sexual assault in the 2016 case. “This is all I did,” he said, as he held his hand on her vagina over her underwear.
This past summer, a woman was helping her friend when she saw Sampson’s face on a newspaper spread across the ﬂoor to catch paint spatter. She went to police and told them about how she, too, was sexually assaulted during a couples massage given by Sampson in 2017. And then another woman, a schoolteacher, came forward to say that she was sexually assaulted — during a massage in 2010.
That left Sampson with ﬁve women accusing him of sexual assault between 2010 and 2017. “You just wonder how many more there are,” an Omaha police detective said earlier this month.
Sampson was the second masseur to be sentenced in the past six months. In May, Judge J Russell Derr sentenced Melvin Buffington to 10 to 12 years in prison after 19 former clients came forward to say that he sexually assaulted them while he worked as a massage therapist at Oasis Massage.
Sampson’s attorney, Carlos Monzon of Lincoln, had urged the judge to place Sampson on five years of probation. Monzon said Sampson “is remorseful and repentant.”
“He does not take lightly what he has done,” Monzon said.
Asked whether he had anything to say, Sampson said: “No, Your Honor. (Monzon) gave a very eloquent apology, and I wholeheartedly agree with it.”
Prosecutor Amy Schuchman blasted Sampson for having the gall to suggest that the women, not him, were the ones who made lewd comments during the massages.
The women all gave similar accounts. How Sampson massaged their feet, then their legs, then penetrated them or touched them over their underwear. How he made lewd comments throughout. How they froze.
How they still think about the violation. Several of the women wept throughout the hearing.
Rae, 41, said she knew Sampson wouldn’t get 35½ years in prison. But she expected him to serve “closer to 10 than two.” Rae said she still struggles with guilt for not coming forward in 2010.
“I just wonder if it would have helped stop him,” she said. “And the other women are like, ‘You can’t put that on yourself. You know, you think about it, the justice system hasn’t done much to stop him either.’ ”