Civil trial begins against wanted Santa Rosa chiropractor convicted of sex crimes
A civil trial is underway in Sonoma County Superior Court to determine whether a Santa Rosa chiropractor and his company should pay for medical expenses and other damages to a woman he began groping and sexually molesting when she was a 16-year-old high school basketball player seeking help for an injured shoulder.
During the first day of trial Tuesday, lawyers on both sides of the case sidestepped around the fact that chiropractor Darius Bunyad remains a wanted felon.
Bunyad, 38, has been missing since March 9, 2017, the day he failed to show up to court and a Sonoma County jury convicted him in abstentia of groping eight of his female patients, including four teen girls. A warrant was issued for his arrest and he remains on the Santa Rosa Police Department’s “Most Wanted” list.
But even in his absence, the civil trial against him commenced Tuesday before Judge Patrick Broderick with opening statements and testimony from one of the victims in the criminal case, who is now 20 years old. She is suing Bunyad and his company, Dr. Bunyad Chiropractic Corp., for medical negligence, infliction of emotional distress, sexual harassment and other claims.
She said she contends that she was subject to escalating groping and sexual abuse for about one year during her time as his client and employee.
“Every time she had a concern, she questioned herself. She said, ‘This is a doctor,’?” her attorney Shawn Tillis said to the jury.
The woman, identified in court by a pseudonym, is seeking unspecified damages including an estimated $280,000 in future medical expenses for physical and mental health treatment.
Tillis told the six-man, six-woman jury they will put forward evidence showing Bunyad and his company should be held liable for damages because of the lasting effect on the life of a promising athlete and star student. Tillis also told the jury he would show the company had no protocols in place to protect patients, such as providing gowns to clients receiving treatments or requiring another staff member be present when Bunyad treated children.
Lawyers representing Bunyad and his company told the jury they intend to show how other factors in the girl’s life, such as family issues and a breakup, contributed to her struggles and that abuse she endured by Bunyad was just one element.
“Serious psychological problems are not simply and exclusively a result (of the conduct of) Dr. Bunyad,” said attorney Duane Musfelt, who is representing Bunyad’s company.
Musfelt told jurors they will not dispute any elements of the crimes Bunyad was convicted of committing against the plaintiff or other clients. A jury found him guilty of ?14 felonies, including sexual battery, annoying or molesting someone under age 18 and battery. The convictions carry a maximum prison sentence of eight years.
Instead, the defense will focus its case on limiting the amount of damages if the jury decides to award her money toward medical expenses and other considerations, such as lost time in school as a result of the fallout from the abuse.
Sharon Hightower, a lawyer representing Bunyad, cautioned jurors to listen to evidence from both sides before making a determination.
“Dr. Bunyad is not here today and he won’t be here,” Hightower said, adding that her client does not deny the crimes he was convicted of committing.
Outside the courtroom during a break, Hightower said that Bunyad is not assisting in his defense and insurance companies arranged for attorneys to defend him and his company.
The plaintiff, who already testified in the criminal case that resulted in Bunyad’s March ?2017 conviction, took the stand Tuesday in the civil matter to describe what she experienced while under Bunyad’s care.
She said Bunyad had her remove both her shirt and sports bra when he adjusted her back by wrapping his arms around her and cupping her breasts. Tillis asked her why she took her shirt off when Bunyad instructed her to do so.
“Because he was a doctor,” the woman said, adding that Bunyad explained he needed to “see the injury better.”
Santa Rosa Sgt. Brenda Harrington said Bunyad’s whereabouts remain unknown and they have a detective assigned to follow any leads that come in. She said they are working with federal law enforcement to help track Bunyad down.
“He will get caught. It’s just a matter of when,” Harrington said.
Police put a hold on Bunyad’s passport, issued from Afghanistan. He was last seen in March 2017 in Walnut Creek with an unknown woman. Also known as Daryoush Mohammad Bunyad or Dan Bunyad, he is 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds.
Police urged anyone with information about Bunyad to call 707-543-4170.
The trial is expected to continue through Jan. 18 and include continued testimony from the plaintiff, her parents and mental health experts on behalf of both sides.
You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jjpressdem.