The Ohio Board of Medicine is investigating two alleged rapes by a former Cleveland Clinic colorectal surgeon following a Jan. 5 USA TODAY article and has subpoenaed Cleveland Clinic medical records for other procedures done by the surgeon in the same time period, USA TODAY has learned.
Surgeon Tomislav Mihaljevic, who started as Cleveland Clinic’s CEO Jan. 1, is also now chair of a “conduct review” committee established after the article was published to review “serious incidents of harassment and misconduct to ensure appropriate action is taken.” New committees are also developing policies on how to assess physicians’ conduct and govern the use of chaperones.
Dr. Ryan Williams was never charged with a crime in the cases of the two alleged rapes.
Chris Forshey, the medical board’s investigations supervisor, interviewed a woman last week who suspects she could have been assaulted and asked to remain anonymous due to the nature of her allegation. Jennifer Davis, the woman’s sister in law and a former Cleveland Clinic registered nurse, filed a medical board complaint on the alleged victim’s behalf on Jan. 16.
The complaint to the medical board has been reviewed by USA TODAY, which is also investigating this woman’s complaint and Williams’ procedures in the two weeks before her procedure. The alleged victim and Davis also recorded their meeting with Forshey and provided that recording, along with Forshey’s business card, to USA TODAY.
USA TODAY does not name the victims of alleged or actual rapes, but in this most recent case, the alleged victim gave her permission for her sister in law to be named by USA TODAY.
The Ohio medical board doesn’t confirm or deny investigations, said spokeswoman Tessie Pollock, who declined to comment further.
The Cleveland Clinic now says Williams was required to have a chaperone when he was with female patients during the months Westlake, Ohio, police were investigating 2008 rape allegations, which were later settled confidentially. That didn’t help Kristin Fehr, who alleges she was unexpectedly sedated and raped by Williams in 2009, but the memories didn’t surface for five years.
Fehr has spoken openly about her case and agreed to let USA TODAY use her name.
Williams’ one-year contract wasn’t renewed in June 2017, nine months after police reports from the two cases were sent with a complaint to the Ohio medical board, which declined to discipline him. The now-expunged police report included details about Williams’ semen found on the exam room floor. He told a detective that he sometimes masturbated to relieve stress, the police reports show.
Williams is now at Ohio State University’ (OSU) Wexner Medical Center, which put him on paid administrative leave last month after USA TODAY inquired about the allegations. Spokesman Christopher Davey declined to comment about Williams’ departure from Cleveland Clinic beyond earlier comments that OSU was unaware of the allegations, which didn’t come up in an extensive background check.
Vehemently denies accusations
Williams denied the rape allegations according to police reports and, in a recent interview with USA Today, said, “I vehemently deny what these women are saying.”
According to the police report in Fehr’s case, prosecutors said the two cases would be stronger if they were presented to a grand jury together, but said that a judge would require them to be separated at trial so they declined to prosecute. Williams was not indicted by a grand jury in the first case and he was not charged in the second case either.
The Cleveland Clinic settled a civil case that the woman who brought the first allegation filed against Williams and the hospital.
“The allegations were concerning, and we immediately reported them to the authorities,” said Cleveland Clinic spokeswoman Eileen Sheil. “When the second patient came forward in 2014, five years had gone by — but again, the police came and investigated and had no evidence that anything occurred. We typically don’t terminate employees over unsubstantiated allegations that were thoroughly investigated.”
News reports about Williams have prompted outcry from women who have been patients of Williams. Others are now wondering if pain or other problems during and after procedures show something could have happened when they were sedated, according to Brian Eisen, a Cleveland medical malpractice lawyer who says “a number of women” have contacted him because they’re worried they may have been victims.
“Several of those women have experienced strong emotional trauma as a result of learning that Cleveland Clinic kept Dr. Williams on staff after it had been made aware of very serious, potentially criminal conduct on the part of Dr. Williams,” said Eisen, a former federal prosecutor. “These women want to know with some certainty what happened when they were in Dr. Williams care and under anesthesia.”
In a December interview with USA TODAY, Williams said he always had a chaperone with him, but his former medical assistant Patsy Bacha told the Westlake police that it wasn’t always possible for someone to be in the room with Williams and patients due to “staffing issues,” the police report shows.
Fehr told police Williams said someone would be coming to the exam room shortly, but then insisted she take two white pills even though she was told earlier that her hemorrhoid removal would require only local anesthesia in the area.
Carol Miller, a former Cleveland Clinic employee who has been a patient for 40 years, wrote a letter to the hospital’s new and former CEO and board on Jan. 10 urging them to issue a public apology and have “additional staff involved in every patient encounter.”
“What were you thinking when you heard about this? ‘Patients first?”…’Excellence in care?'” wrote Miller, who worked in the hospice unit. “Would you have allowed this physician to see your family and loved ones?”
Patient safety activist David Antoon, who sent the police reports and filed a medical board complaint on behalf of Fehr in September 2016, is heartened there is finally an investigation into Williams. But he’s disappointed it took so long. He spent more than two years trying to get the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the medical board to address her complaint.
Fehr also filed a report in 2014 with the medical board, which closed it without disciplining him in May 2016.
Williams’ identical twin brother, Bryan, lost his medical license in the Washington, D.C. area after several women accused him of sexual offenses, including anal rape. Ryan Williams told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he was long estranged from his brother and “horrified” by the accusations against his twin. His brother denied the allegations and has not been charged with any crime.