LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A former University of Southern California gynecologist accused by hundreds of patients of molestation and other misconduct over the past three decades was arrested on Wednesday on charges of sexually assaulting 16 students who were under his care.
Dr. George Tyndall, 72, was charged in Los Angeles Superior Court with 29 felony counts of sexual penetration and sexual battery by fraud in a scandal that has already resulted in a $215 million civil settlement in federal court.
The 16 patients he is criminally charged with assaulting ranged in age from 17 to 29 and were allegedly violated by Tyndall at the downtown Los Angeles university’s student health center between 2009 and 2016, prosecutors said.
Widespread faculty and student outrage over the university’s handling of the matter after allegations against Tyndall surfaced in media reports last year led then-USC President C.L. Max Nikias to resign.
Lawyers for Tyndall, whose medical license was suspended last year, say their client denies wrongdoing but agreed to the civil settlement to avoid the expense of continued litigation.
“There’s been a lot of character assassination of the doctor in this case, and we’re really looking forward to exonerating him,” attorney Andrew Flier said of Tyndall by phone. “He’s always proclaimed his innocence from day one.”
Tyndall faces up to 53 years in prison if convicted of all the charges.
The doctor was found to be carrying a loaded and concealed .38-caliber handgun when he was taken into custody outside his apartment by Los Angeles police, city police chief Michel Moore said at a news conference.
Tyndall was transported to a nearby hospital after complaining of chest pains at the time of his arrest, Moore said. The chief said he did not know why Tyndall was armed and had no indication that the physician was suicidal.
Bail has been set at $2.1 million, but the date of Tyndall’s first appearing before a judge hinges on when he is “well enough to come to court,” Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey told reporters.
Tyndall resigned from USC, long one of the nation’s most prestigious private universities, in 2017 following an internal investigation that began when a health worker in 2016 accused him of making sexually inappropriate comments to patients.
A criminal investigation by Los Angeles authorities is still underway, prosecutors said.
Moore said a dozen detectives have been assigned full-time to the Tyndall case, conducting interviews with more than 350 women in 16 states and Canada who have come forward with accusations of sexual misconduct against Tyndall.
Not all those allegations resulted in criminal charges. Some fell outside the 10-year statute of limitations. Others involved lewd comments or other inappropriate behavior that fell short of a criminal offense.
Prosecutors said police presented them with about 135 crime reports before they filed formal charges in 16 cases, and additional charges are possible.
A federal court on June 13 granted preliminary approval to a $215 million settlement in the class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of Tyndall’s former patients.
USC will pay any woman treated by Tyndall at the student health center at least $2,500, and former patients who describe harm they suffered will be eligible for up to $250,000, the university said on its website.
Some of the allegations against Tyndall date back about 30 years. USC has acknowledged failing to properly act on several complaints that were made against Tyndall between 2000 and 2014.
Tyndall’s former patients accused USC of complicity and negligence in its duty to protect students. Some women have filed civil cases in state court and contend the federal court settlement is insufficient.
The USC case comes on the heels of a scandal that roiled USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University. Larry Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics team doctor who also was on the MSU staff, was sentenced to up to 300 years in prison after more than 350 women testified about abuse at his hands during two trials last year.
Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Tom Brown and Michael Perry