LOS ANGELES (AP) — The former longtime gynecologist at the University of Southern California was charged Wednesday with sexually assaulting 16 women at the student health center, the first criminal counts in a case that already has seen USC offer to pay $215 million to settle potentially thousands of claims.
Dr. George Tyndall, 72, worked at USC for nearly three decades, and news of his arrest on 29 felony charges that could send him to prison for 53 years was welcomed by women who accuse him of misconduct and lawyers representing them.
Some, however, criticized the delay in filing charges after allegations against the doctor first surfaced in May 2018.
Authorities said Wednesday the investigation is continuing and more charges could follow.
“It was time to seek justice,” Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said at a news conference.
In the past year, more than 380 women have reported misconduct by Tyndall, authorities said. Some of the cases fell outside the 10-year statute of limitations, while others did not rise to the level of criminal charges or lacked sufficient evidence to prosecute.
Police took Tyndall him into custody outside his Mid-Wiltshire home and said they found a loaded revolver in his possession.
His attorney, Andrew Flier, said he didn’t know about the weapon, adding that Tyndall is not suicidal or a danger to anyone else.
Tyndall was hospitalized at Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center because of chest pains that followed his arrest.
Tyndall has denied any wrongdoing. His lawyers say his interactions with patients were medically appropriate.
“We are very much looking forward to adjudicating this case in a courtroom because of this character assassination,” Flier said. “We’re going to be able to punch some serious holes in all these allegations.”
Daniella Mohazab, who says Tyndall assaulted her in 2016, called the arrest “a huge step in moving forward.”
“I broke down at work today in tears of happiness that Tyndall is behind bars,” Mohazab said during a news conference with her attorney, Gloria Allred. “I cannot explain how scared I felt walking around with the thought that I could run into Tyndall at any moment, in a grocery store, coffee shop or park.”
Allred said she is representing two of the 16 women in the criminal case but would not say if Mohazab is one of them.
The allegations against Tyndall surfaced months after the conclusion of the closely watched sexual misconduct case against Larry Nasser, a former sports doctor for Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics. He was accused of sexually assaulting hundreds of women and girls and now is serving decades-long sentences for sexual abuse and possession of child pornography.
Another college gynecologist, Dr. James Heaps, formerly of the University of California, Los Angeles, is facing charges of sexual misconduct involving two patents.
In Tyndall’s case, prosecutors say 16 patients ranging from 17 to 29 were abused during visits to the student health center for annual exams or other treatment.
A dozen full-time detectives in the Los Angeles Police Department’s elite Robbery-Homicide Division traveled to 16 states and Canada to interview hundreds of victims, police Capt. William Hayes said.
Police discovered photographs of women in “compromising” positions that may have been taken during gynecological exams, as well as 1,000 “home-made sex tapes” believed to be filmed outside the U.S., Hayes said.
Tyndall is charged with 29 felonies, including 18 counts of sexual penetration and 11 counts of sexual battery by fraud. Victims were unaware of what was going on because he led them to believe it served a professional purpose, the criminal complaint states.
His bail has been set at $2.1 million; arraignment has not been scheduled.
More than 700 women have filed individual civil lawsuits against Tyndall and USC in state court. Separately, USC has agreed to a $215 million class-action settlement with former patients, which would create a fund to pay $2,500 to $250,000 to women who say Tyndall abused them.
As many as 17,000 students and alumnae are eligible, according to the university.
Tyndall’s medical license has been suspended since 2018, and he is not allowed to practice medicine, according to the state medical board’s website.
Interim USC President Wanda M. Austin said the university has cooperated with authorities.
“We care deeply about our community and our top priority continues to be the well-being of our students, health center patients and university community,” Austin said in a statement. “We hope this arrest will be a healing step.”
Police Chief Michel Moore said police have not found any evidence that USC obstructed the criminal investigation and praised school officials for their cooperation.
Heaps, the former UCLA gynecologist, appeared in court Wednesday and a preliminary hearing was set for July 30.
He has pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting two patients in 2017 and 2018.
Attorneys in civil actions against Heaps say they have been contacted by dozens of women for incidents dating to the 1990s. Heaps’ lawyer, Tracy Green, maintains the doctor did nothing wrong and women are coming forward based on advertising being done for law firms.
UCLA’s investigation began in December 2017, but the university did not alert the campus community about the allegations until Heaps was arrested earlier this month. The school has promised an independent review of its response.