A Dayton police detective recommended criminally charging a pediatric gastroenterologist for touching the breasts of two teenage patients at Dayton Children’s Hospital, but prosecutors did not present the case to a grand jury after one of the girls declined to cooperate, the Dayton Daily News has learned.
Police launched an investigation in 2015 after a hospital administrator reported the allegations involving Dr. Arun Aggarwal to Montgomery County Children’s Services. No charges were filed, but the State Medical Board of Ohio cited the doctor last year and may move soon to take action on his license.
Records obtained by the newspaper show at least two Children’s Hospital administrators were frustrated that the hospital didn’t move more aggressively against the doctor, and one of them testified before the medical board last month that she was concerned the allegations “were not being handled appropriately or by hospital policy.”
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Angela Cox, a clinic manager at the hospital at the time of the allegations, told the board she later quit her job because, “I was struggling to work for the administration of that hospital after these events.”
Children’s officials declined to comment about how the allegations involving Aggarwal were handled. Aggarwal practiced at Children’s but worked for Wright State University as part of its physicians group that contracts with local hospitals. Wright State also declined to comment.
The medical board last May issued a citation accusing Aggarwal of sexual misconduct for touching female patients’ breasts without medical justification in late 2013 and 2014. Aggarwal, 39, is a native of India and told the medical board in February that he will be forced to leave the country if he doesn’t get a job soon.
The Dayton police investigation lasted nearly a year. The police department and prosecutor’s office jointly decided not to move forward because of the unavailability of an essential witness, said Greg Flannagan, spokesman for the prosecutor’s office.
Details about the Aggarwal case were revealed in police records and a transcript obtained by this newspaper of a three-day hearing last month before the medical board.
The hearing included conflicting testimony from Aggarwal and the patients about what happened. Aggarwal said his examinations were medically appropriate. The two girls, and their families, said he overstepped boundaries.
‘I was just in shock’
The first incident occurred in December 2013 and involved a 15-year-old patient treated for a digestive tract problem.
The girl testified before the medical board that Aggarwal first touched her stomach after asking her mother to leave the room.
“And then he eventually just pulled my shirt up and was touching my breast,” she testified. “And at that time, I in my life, I had never had a breast exam, so I didn’t know what to expect or how that would even feel or what they would do, and I was just in shock.”
The mother reported the incident a month later while scheduling an appointment and asked for a different doctor.
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In his testimony, Aggarwal said he asked the mother to leave so he could ask sensitive questions. He said went to get her before performing any physical exam but went ahead after he couldn’t find her.
Aggarwal told the board the hospital’s chief medical officer advised him to always have a parent in the room when conducting such an exam.
In November 2014, a second mother called the hospital to complain after leaving an appointment with Aggarwal. The mother said he improperly touched her 18-year-old daughter during multiple hospital visits.
The patient, who went to Aggarwal for issues related to acid reflux, alleges he squeezed her nipples and made her remove her bra unnecessarily, according to medical board records.
The patient’s mother was in the room, but she told the board she could not see what was going on.
In Aggarwal’s testimony, he said the exams he conducted were medically justified: pressing on the first patient’s sternum to check for chest pain and examining the surgical scar on the chest of the second patient.
He defended his practice and said he is a physician who is dedicated to his patients.
“I went over and over what I was expected to do,” he testified. “I went to the hospital early, came back late. I mean, I spent hours with the families to make them comfortable, to make them understand what’s going on in their kid’s life and what they need to expect and what they need to do. I always maintained high standard, and this is the first complaint ever in my medical care.”
After the second complaint, Children’s Hospital officials in January 2015 began requiring that Aggarwal have a staff chaperone on hand when he examined post-pubescent females, according to testimony by Dr. Adam Mezoff, the hospital’s chief medical officer.
Mezoff said he had never before instituted a chaperone policy for one physician.
“It was clear that having a family chaperone wasn’t ensuring that the patient felt safe in whatever exam they were getting,” he told the board.
Cox and her supervisor, Karen Braun, both felt more substantial measures were warranted, according to Cox’s testimony. Braun, who also has left the hospital, was the administrator who reported the incidents to Children’s Services, triggering the criminal investigation.
Cox and Braun both declined comment for this story.
Cox, who oversaw nurses in the gastrointestinal clinic, testified that she and other staff members pushed for the incidents to be reported to the hospital’s social work division, the body that typically considers whether to report to law enforcement.
Cox testified she had expressed to Mezoff after the second incident that she didn’t feel that requiring Aggarwal to use a chaperone was adequate.
“(I) asked him (Mezoff) what my responsibility was to make sure that our patients were safe in the (gastrointestinal) clinics, and he very sternly told me that it was not my business, that it was taken care of and that I was to drop it.”
Dayton police Detective Elizabeth Alley testified she recommended bringing charges against Aggarwal to the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office, but that the first alleged victim — who was 15 at the time of her exam — did not want to pursue possible charges.
“She did not want her care to be compromised and did not want her name to be out there publicly,” Alley testified. “In the juvenile division, (Montgomery County Assistant Prosecutor) Julie Bruns specifically said if they had both on board, she would take the charges on the case.”
Dayton’s city prosecutor also declined to press charges, Alley said.
Alley’s investigative report, obtained by this newspaper through a public records request, indicates the parents of the 15-year-old patient did not return the detective’s calls or messages when the case was going to be considered by the county prosecutor’s office for possible charges.
The decision not to press forward with a criminal case came after meetings with assistant prosecuting attorneys and Dayton police detectives, including Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck Jr. and Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl, said Flannagan.
Wright State suspended Aggarwal in mid-2015, while the investigation was still pending, and later terminated him after his privileges at the hospital lapsed in September.
He then filed a lawsuit against Wright State claiming wrongful termination.
WSU officials declined to comment for this story, citing the lawsuit.
Alley told the medical board she found the hospital’s response to the case “extremely” unusual.
“I felt like they were having a lot of meetings to see if it was reportable rather than just report it and do what you’re supposed to do,” she testified. “So to me, it was very unusual how they met to see if they could report it, and (Braun) met a lot of resistance in reporting rather than just reporting it to see what we would do versus having all these meetings.”
STORIES FROM OUR YEAR-LONG SERIES:
LICENSE REVOKED:Doctor’s license revoked after accusations of improper touching
HUBER HEIGHTS:Doctor accused of sexual advances toward 13 patients
PRACTICING AGAIN:Dayton doctor suspended for two years allowed to practice again
This newspaper collaborated with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last year on a series of stories on doctors accused of sexual misconduct. The series revealed a broken system that fails to punish doctors, even after they were found to have abused their patients. To see our coverage from that series go to myDaytonDailyNews.com.