The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 9, 2013

Eye doc denies sexual assault allegations

By Dan Nienaber
The Free Press

MANKATO — A former Mankato Clinic eye doctor told jurors he never asked two of his patients to strip from the waist up and never had any sexual intentions when he examined the women, who are both accusing him of sexually assaulting them during eye exams.

The trial for Todd Gavin, 51, continued Wednesday with him taking the stand to explain what happened when he saw the women during two different examinations on May 17, 2010. He flatly denied allegations by the women, which resulted in felony and gross misdemeanor charges being filed against him in July 2011.

One woman told investigators Gavin asked her to bare her breasts and touched them after asking if she had received annual breast exams. She also said Gavin touched her abdomen and inner thigh over her clothing during the 10 to 12 minute exam.

The second woman, who had a 6-minute exam a short time later, told investigators Gavin asked her to remove her clothing while he was checking to see if a shingles outbreak had harmed her eyes. She had been examined for shingles by two other doctors during an earlier visit to the clinic.

While being questioned by one of his attorneys, Michael McDonald, Gavin said he never asked the first woman to remove her clothing. He said he turned away from her to type information into a computer and was surprised when he turned around and saw her with her top off.

"What was going on in your head?" McDonald asked.

"That was one of those situations I can't really describe," Gavin said, then compared the situation to the odd feeling he said someone's brain would create if he tried to drive a car and read a book at the same time.

"I had confusion. I didn't know what to do."

He also said he never touched her breasts, never touched her below the waist and denied having the medical discussion the woman said he used to explain why she should remove her clothing.

When asked about the second patient, Gavin said he did ask her to lift her shirt to expose her abdomen. He said it is very uncommon for a woman as young as she was to have the type of shingles she did, so he was concerned about her immune system. If the shingles were spreading and not going away, it was possible the woman had cancer or a serious immunity disorder, Gavin said.

"So you needed to determine if her life was threatened at that time?" McDonald asked.

"Yes," Gavin said, adding that she could have required an immediate referral to the hospital.

He also said, except for using a cotton swab to pull the woman's hair back to check for shingles on her head, he never touched the second patient.

"I didn't have any reason to touch her," he said.

During cross examination, Assistant Blue Earth County Attorney Mike Hanson asked Gavin about a reprimand he received from Minnesota Board of Medical Practice. The reprimand resulted from an investigation involving four victims, including the two women who made the allegations resulting in criminal charges.

Gavin, who resigned from his job at Mankato Clinic before the reprimand was issued, said he didn't admit to allegations in the reprimand. Those allegations said the board's investigation found he "reportedly engaged in conduct with his female patients that was sexual or could reasonably be interpreted by his patients as sexual."

"I signed the agreement," Gavin said. "I didn't agree with the findings."