CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A doctor at a Veterans Affairs hospital in West Virginia has been charged with groping and injuring a patient.
Dr. Jonathan Yates was charged in a criminal complaint unsealed Thursday with one count of deprivation of rights under colour of law — language used to describe crimes committed while on duty. The charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
The complaint, filed in federal court in West Virginia’s southern district, said Yates deprived the 42-year-old Army veteran at the VA Medical Center in Beckley of his constitutional right to bodily integrity during a February 2019 examination.
“He was essentially groping me,” the patient said in an affidavit.
The patient became incapacitated when Yates cracked his neck in a locked examination room, FBI Special Agent Michael Moyer said in the affidavit. Moyer said the doctor’s action amounted to kidnapping.
Yates, 51, was arrested at his home Thursday, prosecutors said.
According to the affidavit, the patient told Yates that he wanted a referral to continue massage therapy for chronic pain. He said Yates told him he needed to do a thorough examination and that he could conduct massages and acupuncture. Yates locked the door and told the patient to remove his clothes, the patient said.
Yates commented about the patient’s muscle tone and chest hair and called him “a real man,” according to the affidavit. When the patient complied with the doctor’s request to remove his jeans, Yates said, “Boxer briefs: my favourite.”
Yates removed the boxers and began massaging the patient, who started complaining of intense pain in his hips, spine and groin areas. Yates continued massaging, moving to the patients’ buttocks, the patient told Moyer.
“I again asked him what this was for, and told him the pain was getting worse,” the patient said. Yates “again tried to reassure me that this was what he needed to do, and that I should relax.”
The patient said Yates smacked his buttocks and, after instructing him to roll onto his back, cracked his neck despite the veteran’s objections.
“I made it clear from the beginning of this session that he was not to crack my neck,” the patient said. “I was in shock, could not even speak.”
When the patient recovered from the shock, he told Yates, “That’s enough. This is not helping.”
After five more minutes of massaging, Yates allowed him to get dressed. The patient said Yates then put his arm around his shoulder and said, “The next session will be better. I’m here to help, physically and mentally. Whatever we talk about stays in this room.”
Yates patted the patient’s leg, hugged him, followed him out of the room and told him to make a follow-up appointment, according to the affidavit.
“I walked to my car as fast as I could, despite my pain,” the patient said. “I went to the gas station bathroom and used multiple sanitary wipes because I felt dirty after that encounter.”
Moyer said he interviewed other hospital patients who described similar behaviour from Yates.
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Yates was employed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as the “whole health director” at the VA hospital from approximately April 2018 to June 2019, according to the affidavit.
The investigation into allegations of sexual assaults at the Beckley hospital was announced last fall at the same time that federal prosecutors were conducting a sweeping criminal probe into the deaths of up to 11 patients at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, West Virginia. Attorneys have said two of those deaths have been ruled homicides from wrongful insulin injections. No charges have been announced.
The VA is the government’s second-largest department, responsible for 9 million military veterans.