A Los Angeles County jury Thursday recognized former UCLA gynecologist Dr. James Heaps convicted of sexually abusing patients.
Prosecutors portrayed Heaps as using his position as a renowned cancer specialist to prey on the most vulnerable women during his 35-year affiliation with UCLA. Hundreds of accusers have been paid nearly $700 million by UCLA in the largest sex abuse settlement involving a public university.
Heaps’ arrest in June 2019 followed similar charges against George Tyndall, a former USC gynecologist accused of sexual misconduct towards hundreds of students. Tyndall has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial on dozens of sexual assault charges related to the campus clinic where he practiced for decades.
“Instead of keeping the Hippocratic Oath, [Heaps] used his position as a doctor, as a specialist, to sexually assault seven incredibly vulnerable women,” said Deputy Dist. atty said Danette Meyers during the trial, which began on August 9.
Ms. Heaps, who was charged with molestation, related similar stories from the witness stand, testifying that he fondled her, penetrated her with his ungloved hand, and engaged in acts of sexual stimulation under the guise of medical investigations.
Defense attorney Leonard Levine countered that the tests were reasonable and “served a medical purpose and were conducted in the presence of female staff. Levin said Heaps “was portrayed as a monster in the press” when in fact he saved lives.
Heaps, 65, was charged with 21 felonies. He was found guilty of three counts of sexual harassment by fraud and two counts of sexual penetration of an unconscious person during assault from 2013 to 2017, the portion of his tenure that falls under the statute of limitations for which criminal charges could be brought.
He was found not guilty on seven other charges, including one count of sexual exploitation.
Judge Michael D. Carter declared a mistrial on nine other sex-related charges, saying the jury was hopelessly deadlocked on them.
In his closing argument, Levine summed up the case by saying that Heaps “either did it all or didn’t do anything.”
“Either he’s a doctor out there doing his job or he’s some insane sex monster out there looking for sex whenever he can,” the defense attorney said. “Those are your two options, I think.”
Heaps’ own university called his behavior “reprehensible” after completing a $374.4 million settlement for 312 former patients.
A state investigation found that UCLA ignored several detailed complaints about decades of abuse against the doctor. A separate University of California report found that UCLA had repeatedly failed to adequately investigate the allegations. UCLA allowed Heaps to return to practice to find new victims in 2018, allegedly with multiple lawsuits, despite senior university officials being aware of an ongoing internal investigation into the allegations.
“It’s very difficult to be betrayed in a relationship of trust like that,” said Jennifer McGrath, who represented many of the victims in the trials and criminal proceedings. “You go to a doctor, you expect to be treated appropriately and medically, and when that doesn’t happen … it really destroys that trust in a deep way.”
A patient who testified at the trial said she went to Heaps because she feared she had stage four cancer. She said she felt like she was in a strip show or porn movie after he told her to bend over and touch her all over without gloves or an attendant.
Another woman, a triple-negative breast cancer survivor, told jurors how she was undergoing aggressive cancer treatment when she saw Heaps. Heaps explained to her how specific incisions to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes would work because she had the BRCA gene, which makes a person more susceptible to certain types of cancer, and told her she could still wear skimpy bikinis. The woman, identified as Kara C., testified that Heaps rubbed her vaginal area like no other doctor had done. She reported him to UCLA 10 days after her 2014 exam.
Meyers reminded the jury during closing arguments that one of Heap’s patients had an IUD removed five days after the procedure because she was in excruciating pain. The woman said that during a returns office visit to UCLA in June 2017, Heaps fondled her breasts and buttocks in a way prosecutors said had “no medical purpose.”
“You have to tell the defendant that he can’t hide behind UCLA, he can’t hide behind that white coat, and he’s guilty of every single charge,” Deputy Dist said. atty Rosa Zavala told the jury.
Despite years of complaints about Heaps, who treated about 6,000 patients during his tenure, it wasn’t until late 2017 that allegations of sexual misconduct were reported to UCLA’s Title IX office and a formal investigation launched.
Heaps was still allowed to see patients — both during the exam and after UCLA told the doctor that his contract would not be renewed after the June 30, 2018 expiration. UCLA eventually ended Heaps’ employment and notified police of the allegations against him in June 2018.
Heaps was arrested a year later and charged with two counts of sexual harassment by cheating and one count of sexual exploitation related to acts involving two patients. Until this arrest, UCLA had not made public or disclosed to former patients that Heaps had been investigated for sexual abuse a year earlier. A grand jury then indicted him for 21 crimes involving seven victims.
In May 2022, UC Regents settled $374.4 million in settlements for 312 former patients who complained of abuse between 1983 and 2018. This agreement came on top of a $243.6 million settlement for more than 200 women’s lawsuits and a $73 million class action settlement involving more than 5,000 patients in 1983. In 2019, the UC system also paid 2, $25 million to settle a lawsuit filed by a patient who claimed she was sexually assaulted by Heaps in 2018.
The cost of the UC settlements exceeds payments by Michigan State University and the University of Michigan to settle lawsuits filed by patients alleging sexual abuse by school doctors. It also eclipses a settlement related to a Penn State sex abuse scandal.
However, the total is still less than the $1.1 billion USC paid to settle lawsuits brought by hundreds of women who accused Tyndall of sexual abuse.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-10-20/ex-ucla-gynecologist-james-heaps-guilty-of-sexually-abusing-patients Ex-UCLA gynecologist James Heaps guilty of sexually abusing patients