YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — A Navy doctor faces 24 counts of wrongful sexual contact and is accused of assaulting at least 15 patients he treated in Japan and Kuwait since 2007.
During three days of testimony this week at an Article 32 hearing at Yokosuka Naval Base, fourteen of the women accused Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Velasquez, a general practitioner, of fondling them and making inappropriate sexual comments.
The 15th alleged victim submitted a sworn statement but could not be located for further testimony.
An Article 32 hearing is akin to a grand jury hearing in civilian court. A decision on whether to try Velasquez in a court-martial will come later.
Two of the alleged incidents occurred at Atsugi Naval Air Facility in Japan. The remainder allegedly occurred at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait between December 2008 and June 2009.
The women ranged in rank from private to lieutenant colonel and included spouses and civilian contractors. Some originally came to see Velasquez for knee and neck pain.
“The next thing they knew, they were getting a vaginal and a breast exam,” said Lt. Cmdr. Shane Johnson during closing arguments Wednesday.
Several witnesses testified Velasquez fondled them roughly and performed breast and vaginal examinations unrelated to their medical conditions. Most also said that Velasquez gave them massages, with one woman saying that Velasquez told her to keep the massage a secret.
To prevent abuse and to protect doctors from accusations, patients are entitled to have third-party “stand-ins” when being examined by an opposite-sex medical provider at military clinics.
Several of the women did not ask for a stand-in, while another said her stand-in wasn’t paying attention during treatment.
After the stand-in left in one case, a sergeant — who said she believed the doctor was a gynecologist — mentioned that she had been having sexual difficulties with her husband.
The sergeant said Velasquez attempted to sexually stimulate her.
“There is no medical need to stimulate a woman to show her that it’s possible,” Lt. Francesca Cimino, a Navy doctor, told prosecutor Lt. Emily Dewey while testifying Tuesday.
Cimino also testified that many of the actions Velasquez is accused of would fall outside the standard of medical care.
Several of the witnesses said that despite uncomfortable first or second visits, they continued to see Velasquez — a point the defense emphasized.
Witnesses said they were uncomfortable but trusted Velasquez because of his authority, until the visits got worse. One said she had a serious medical condition and Velasquez was the only one at Camp Arifjan clinic qualified to treat it.
Velasquez’s actions may not have followed generally accepted medical practices, but they shouldn’t be judged by the criminal justice system, said civilian defense attorney Gary Myers.
He said wrongful sexual contact under military law requires the prosecution to show that Velasquez intended to sexually gratify himself or the alleged victims.
“There is no indication that he was intending to gratify anything,” Myers said.
Myers instead suggested that the case be referred back to the hospital as a malpractice concern.
Velasquez’s medical credentials are currently suspended, according to testimony.
Whether Velasquez faces a court-martial may ultimately be decided by the Commander Naval Forces Japan, Rear Adm. Richard Wren.
Investigating officer Lt. Cmdr. Justin Pilling must make a recommendation on whether to proceed following review of the charges, which in this case can also be knocked down to lesser offenses.
Velasquez did not speak at the hearing.