The Butte County District Attorney’s Office this week filed a criminal complaint against a Chico doctor accused of sexually assaulting a patient.
Annamalai Ashokan, a 65-year-old anesthesiologist who is based in Hollister but has worked in Chico on a part-time basis, was charged Monday in Butte County Superior Court with a misdemeanor count of sexual battery in connection with an incident that happened in April 2018, according to court documents.
Chico police detectives arrested Ashokan on suspicion of sexual assault Jan. 30 at his Chico office on Jan Court off Forest Avenue, police said. Police said Ashokan was arrested following a “lengthy” investigation into allegations he assaulted a female patient during a medical procedure.
Deputy district attorney Matt Taylor said the patient had been seeing Ashokan to receive injections for pain treatment. During a routine procedure, Taylor said, the patient passed out and awoke to Ashokan putting his mouth on her breast. As the patient further regained consciousness, Ashokan stopped the alleged conduct.
Subsequent DNA testing linked Ashokan to the alleged conduct, Taylor said. More information was gleaned after the patient assisted investigators by wearing a wire.
Ashokan, the prosecutor said, abused a position of trust.
Ashokan’s attorney, Philip Heithecker, said Ashokan adamantly denies the allegations. Heithecker said Ashokan has the support of witnesses, including a medical assistant who was no more than 12 feet away from the glass door of the examination room. The patient, the defense attorney said, did not alert the assistant to anything unusual that happened during the exam and scheduled a typical follow-up visit.
“What is being described by the patient did not happen,” Heithecker said.
“I would much prefer it if the prosecutor litigated this case in the courtroom instead of trying it in the media,” Heithecker said.
According to Ashokan’s physician profile on the website for Skyway Surgery Center, he specializes in pain management and graduated from Bangalore Medical College in the late ’70s. He completed his residency in general surgery at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1983 and his residency in anesthesiology at New York Medical College in 1987.
Police have said Ashokan has office hours in Chico every other week.
In a separate matter nearly 20 years ago, Ashokan was accused of sexual misconduct stemming from interactions he had with a female patient in Hollister. That case was resolved in 2001, when the doctor admitted unprofessional conducted and was placed on five years’ probation by the California Medical Board.
In a new accusation state Medical Board officials filed this month, Ashokan is alleged to have committed unprofessional conduct and/or negligent acts in the long-term opioid treatment of a patient suffering from chronic back pain.
Beginning in October 2011 and ending in April 2013, it’s alleged Ashokan failed to perform a comprehensive physical examination of the 31-year-old male patient before starting opioid treatment, failed to follow up on the patient’s positive drug tests for non-prescribed opiates, failed to discuss why the patient had been running out of prescribed medication early, and continued with opioid treatment for many months despite the patient’s lack of improvement.
The patient in April 2013 was seen by a different physician “who performed a more complete physical examination, provided (the patient) with a final refill of his medications and referred him to a pain management clinic,” according to the Medical Board’s accusation filed March 7.
The patient ultimately died in May 2013 after a heroin overdose.
Medical Board officials have requested a hearing on the opioid matter.
Heithecker said he also is aware of the board’s recent accusation against Ashokan in the opioid matter. He said he has found that, based on the nationwide opioid crisis, the Medical Board is going back and reviewing past prescriptive practices.
The problem, the defense attorney said, is that the Medical Board, in its reviews, is applying current methods of care to cases that occurred in years prior. Standards and practices change over time, he said, and they have certainly changed with regard to pain management patients and opioid prescriptions.
“These matters sort themselves out in due course,” Heithecker said.