UCLA took over a year to notify students of the investigation of a former doctor accused of sexual battery.
University officials sent a campuswide email June 10 regarding the arrest of James Heaps, a former UCLA Health obstetrician and gynecologist. Undergraduate Student Association Council President Robert Watson said he felt the fact that students were not immediately informed of the Title IX investigation may have put students in danger.
“Students didn’t know about it until maybe a month ago, which is not only, I think, a threat of safety, but also just doesn’t really show a lot of accountability and transparency behind these accusations,” Watson said.
In December 2017, UCLA launched a Title IX investigation after receiving a complaint of inappropriate touching and comments made by Heaps toward patients, said David Olmos, a UCLA Health spokesperson, in an email statement.
Heaps’ arrest came about a year and a half after UCLA began investigating him.
Heaps pled not guilty to two counts of sexual battery and one count of sexual exploitation by a physician. The initial investigation led to the discovery of two other complaints against Heaps from 2014 and 2015.
The 2015 complaint stemmed from an anonymous Yelp review about 2008 events, Olmos said. The review alleged that Heaps had sexually assaulted the person who posted the comment while they were a UCLA student.
UCLA Health notified Heaps on April 25, 2018 that his employment would end.
Heaps has not practiced at the what is now known as the Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center since 2010, Olmos said. Prior to that, Heaps was a part-time consulting physician starting in 1983.
In May 2018, the Title IX office referred the case to medical staff to assess whether Heaps’ treatment was medically appropriate.
“The results of that initial investigation were not concluded due to a need for clarification as to the medical appropriateness of Heaps’ practice,” Olmos said.
That investigation was concluded some time after his termination, but Olmos did not give a specific date for the end of the investigation.
Heaps was removed from clinical practice and placed on paid investigative leave June 14, 2018, after an investigation substantiated allegations of billing irregularities and violation of the UCLA Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment policy, Olmos said. The leave was paid, as required under the University’s academic personnel policies, Olmos added.
“We reported him to the Medical Board of California, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Office of Inspector General, and law enforcement,” Olmos said. “We also informed Dr. Heaps that his employment was being terminated, after which he announced he was retiring.”
Olmos said UCLA Health learned of a fourth patient complaint about 2018 events after Heaps was no longer employed.
Since his arrest, at least 22 women have come forward against Heaps, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Student government officials from UCLA and USC, who collectively represent over 93,000 students, released a joint statement calling for more transparency.
“As we approach a new school year, both institutions have an extraordinary opportunity to rethink health approaches and reshape workplace culture,” the joint statement said. “They also have a necessary obligation to protect the integrity, well-being, and safety of all students; we call for this to be the top priority for all campus departments at USC and UCLA.”
Watson said Chancellor Gene Block has not addressed the matter with USAC directly. Watson added he would like administrators to communicate more with USAC in regards to matters concerning student safety and well-being, such as the Heaps investigation.
Watson said he thinks the way UCLA handled communication about this case resembled the way UCLA handled communication regarding former professor Thomas Denove, who was arraigned for charges of sexual assault of minors one month before he retired from UCLA. The university did not notify students of the charges brought against Denove.
“We just don’t know … whether it’s a professor, whether it’s a health practitioner, until they’ve already been interacting with students, seeing more students after these allegations, we just don’t know about it,” Watson said.
Watson said he understands there are privacy regulations regarding the communication of personnel matters and investigations. However, he said he thinks students should be informed due to the gravity of the accusations.
“It seems like for accusations that are as serious as these, that the student body or students that have the potential to interact with these individuals should be made aware that there is some sort of ongoing conduct investigation,” Watson said.
Under the Clery Act, universities are required to immediately notify the campus community upon the confirmation of a significant emergency or dangerous situation involving an immediate threat to the health or safety of students or employees on the campus.
Graduate Students Association President Zak Fisher said he thinks students should be able to publicly voice their concerns to administrators regarding the Heaps investigation.
“I understand and respect that there are ongoing legal proceedings that limit our capacities to prudently speak on any individual case, but there is consensus among graduate students that Chancellor Block’s administration lacks fundamental transparency, including and perhaps especially when it comes to very serious issues like sexual assault,” Fisher said.
The preliminary hearing for the charges against Heaps will take place Wednesday at the Airport Courthouse.