Doctor to face sexual charges Patients say they were touched

Published December 28, 2006

Two women and a teenager have accused a doctor who was formerly employed at Providence St. Peter Hospital's chemical dependency unit of touching them in a sexual manner during exams.

In one case, he's accused of telling the woman, when she complained, "Who are they gonna believe, me or you?" according to court records.

Dr. Jitesh Jagdish Chawla, 30, was terminated from the hospital on Dec. 23, after the three females complained to a hospital official on Dec. 19, according to a probable cause certificate filed in Thurston County Superior Court.

Chawla is charged with three counts of indecent liberties, each a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

$40,000 bail

Chawla entered a not guilty plea during his arraignment Friday before Superior Court Judge Paula Casey. Casey set Chawla's bail at $40,000. As of Friday night, Chawla had posted bail and was released from jail. Casey ordered that, as a condition of his release, he have no one-on-one contact with females other than his wife and mother, who were present in the courtroom Friday.

Chawla is under investigation by the state Department of Health, and that's one of the factors that led to the criminal investigation, said John Sinclair, Chawla's attorney.

There has been no action so far on the DOH investigation into Chawla's license to practice medicine, Department of Health spokesman Donn Moyer said.

"Criminal investigations take precedence, and we work very closely with law enforcement," Moyer said.

The Department of Health m akes a public announcement only when it takes action on a complaint against a doctor's license, not when a doctor is merely under investigation, Moyer said. "There's a presumption of innocence."

Chawla now works at the Valley View Health Center in Chehalis, Sinclair said in court. "They seem to be happy with him."

Officials at the Valley View Health Center in Chehalis could not be reached for comment Friday after 5 p.m. A phone number for Chawla found on reached a message at Valley View Health Center.

"I do believe that he is a clear danger to the community," Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jodilyn Erikson-Muldrew told the court in asking to have bail set at $100,000.

A pretrial hearing in the case was set for Oct. 26.

According to the probable cause certificate filed in court:

Lacey Police Detective Shannon Barnes began investigating Chawla on Dec. 21. She interviewed Mike Kerlin, director of Psychiatry and Chemical Dependency at the hospital, who told her that three females made complaints on the same day, Dec. 19. "The adults and juvenile were not able to co-mingle and therefore they had no contact with one another," Kerlin told the detective.

No other complaints about Chawla inappropriately touching patients have been filed, according to Kerlin.

n It's standard practice at the hospital to have a third person with a doctor and a patient while medical examinations are conducted. Although Chawla had been advised of the policy, he never used a chaperone while at the chemical dependency center, according to Kerlin.

Officials at St. Peter's Hospital could not be reached for comment after 5 p.m. Friday. A nursing supervisor said that a public information officer for the hospital would not be available until Monday.

n The teenager, who was 16 at the time, alleges Chawla put a stethoscope down her shirt during an exam in December and "went as low as her abdomen and this made her feel uncomfortable." He also "began pushing on her ribs and then around her breast area under her shirt." After that, Chawla asked her to bend over and touch her toes. When she complied, Chawla "was standing so close behind her that she could feel his groin on her buttocks." She said Chawla put his hands on her hips and pressed against her backside. The girl said she moved quickly to get away, "hitting a table in the process." She then left without getting medication and complained the next day.

The juvenile said she decided to leave the treatment center soon afterward, and had to complete a criminal sentence at the Kitsap Juvenile Detention Center as a result.

n The second complaint came after an examination in November or December that the woman described as "very bizarre." She accused Chawla of touching her breasts and rubbing against her. Chawla repeatedly offered her the medications Librium and Amitriptyline, which she found odd because she was being treated in a chemical dependency program. She felt Chawla was trying to "offer her the medication in exchange for something else."

When the woman told Chawla during a second exam that she'd complained to a nurse, he told her, "Who are they gonna believe, me or you?" and "The nursing staff already thinks you're crazy."

n The third complaint came from a woman who accused Chawla of touching her breasts and rubbing his groin against her. "She felt very uncomfortable."

The woman also said it appeared Chawla was sexually aroused during the exam, which was "more like an intimate situation than a standard physical exam," she said.

Jeremy Pawloski - The Olympian