Ex-UCLA gynecologist pleads not guilty to patient sex abuse
LOS ANGELES — A retired gynecologist who worked at the University of California, Los Angeles for decades has pleaded not guilty to sexually abusing two patients during examinations and the campus is asking anyone who may have other complaints against him to step forward.
Dr. James Heaps, 62, pleaded not guilty Monday to sexual battery by fraud against two patients in 2017 and 2018. He also pleaded not guilty to a count of sexual exploitation of a patient and was released without bail.
The women weren't UCLA students but they were seen at Heaps' office on the UCLA campus.
"Sexual abuse in any form is unacceptable and represents an inexcusable breach of the physician-patient relationship," Chancellor Gene Block and Vice Chancellor John Mazziotta said in a statement. "We are deeply sorry that a former UCLA physician violated our policies and standards, our trust and the trust of his patients."
But Heaps' attorney, Tracy Green, accused the university of rushing to judgment in the wake of a headline-making scandal involving similar allegations against a former gynecologist at the University of Southern California.
USC paid out $215 million to settle a lawsuit alleging that Dr. George Tyndall engaged in misconduct with patients. Hundreds of current and former USC students have made allegations against Tyndall, who has denied them and hasn't been criminally charged.
"I think they were very scared about happened at USC," Green said. "Dr. Heaps knows that he did not do this."
The USC scandal prompted a bill now in the state Senate that would make it easier for people who were abused by doctors at campus health centers as far back as 30 years ago to file for damages against the university. However, the bill explicitly exempts public universities, meaning it wouldn't apply to UCLA. The exemption was added as an amendment earlier this year. The bill has passed the Assembly and is now in the state Senate.
Green said Heaps, 62, worked a half-day a month at the UCLA student health center from 1989 to 2010 and had a private practice on campus from 1991 to 2014, when he sold it to UCLA Health and became an employee, Green said.
In 2018, following an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct, Heaps was notified that his contract wasn't being renewed, which was equivalent to a notification of intent to fire him, UCLA spokeswoman Rhonda Curry said.
At that point, he retired.
Curry said UCLA to date is aware of only four complaints involving Heaps and only one involved a woman who claimed she had attended UCLA.
That complaint, which came to light last year during the school's investigation, was a 2015 Yelp review of a 2008 examination, she said.
The criminal allegations involve two women, one of them a 48-year-old mother of three, whom Heaps examined in 2017 and 2018, Green said.
The 2017 patient alleged that Heaps improperly fingered her genital ring piercing and the mother alleged that he improperly placed his fingers in her vagina during an examination, Green said.
UCLA settled a claim by the 2017 patient but details were not disclosed.
"These are two baseless allegations and James Heaps' examinations were medically indicated, with medical assistants or a nurse present, and done solely for proper medical and professional purposes," Green said.
The Medical Board of California showed no records of discipline against Heaps and he has a current license to practice medicine.