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Court finds former UCLA gynecologist guilty of sexually abusing patients

UCLA gynecologist James Heaps appears in Los Angeles Superior Court in 2019.
Al Seib
/
Los Angeles Times via AP
UCLA gynecologist James Heaps appears in Los Angeles Superior Court in 2019.

A former obstetrician-gynecologist who spent more than three decades working for the University of California, Los Angeles, has been convicted of sexually abusing his patients.

A jury on Thursday found Dr. James Heaps guilty of five felony counts, including three counts of sexual battery by fraud and two counts of sexual penetration of an unconscious person, according to the LA County District Attorney's office.

Heaps' arrest in 2019 led thousands of women to claim sexual abuse by the doctor, and, to date, UCLA has spent about $700 million in lawsuit settlements for its alleged role in concealing the abuse.

LA jurors were hung on nine counts

A 2020 UCLA special investigative report alleged that Heaps had used painful vaginal examination techniques, unnecessarily groped and touched patients during exams and made inappropriate sexual comments to patients and staff.

Heaps was facing 21 felony counts in total.

He was acquitted on three counts of sexual battery by fraud, three counts of sexual penetration of an unconscious person and one count of sexual exploitation of a patient.

Jurors couldn't reach a verdict on nine more counts, including three counts of sexual battery by fraud, four counts of sexual penetration of an unconscious person and two counts of sexual exploitation of a patient.

LA County District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement he was "obviously disappointed" in the acquitted counts, but thanked jurors for bringing "some measure of accountability to Dr. Heaps."

Gascón's office said it has not yet decided whether to retry the hung counts.

"The trauma Dr. Heaps inflicted on the very people he had sworn to care for is immeasurable," Gascón said.

Heaps' sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 17.

Two victims of UCLA gynecologist Dr. James Heaps hold hands during a May press conference (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP
/
AP
Two victims of UCLA gynecologist Dr. James Heaps hold hands during a May press conference (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

UCLA has agreed to pay over $700 million in lawsuits

Defense attorney Lenny Levine argued that Heaps' actions were medically appropriate and conducted with female staff present, according to the Los Angeles Times.

"He's either a doctor out there doing his job, or he's a maniacal monster sex fiend out there looking for sex whenever he can," Levine said during closing arguments. "Those are your two choices."

The charges brought against Heaps all involved incidents that occurred between 2009 and 2018, a period that falls within the statute of limitations for criminal charges.

Since Heaps' arrest in 2019, thousands of women have come forward to claim he abused them through filed lawsuits.

College medical abuse represents the latest wave of the #MeToo movement

For one such suit, settled in 2020 for $73 million, UCLA agreed to create a fund to pay more than 5,500 victims participating in a class action. The payments to individual accusers would range from $2,500 to $250,000.

Women alleged in the suit that the university ignored decades of complaints and intentionally concealed the abuse before beginning to investigate Heaps in 2018.

A state investigation and a later UCLA internal review both reported that the university repeatedly failed to investigate allegations, allowing Heaps to keep practicing.

Hundreds of women who claim doctors sexually assaulted them have also filed lawsuits against University of Michigan, University of Southern California, Michigan State University, Ohio State University, John Hopkins University and Columbia University.

The allegations against sexual misconduct in college medical offices have been cast as the latest wave of the #MeToo movement, which started five years ago this month and continues to spread globally.

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Emily Olson
Emily Olson is on a three-month assignment as a news writer and live blog editor, helping shape NPR's digital breaking news strategy.