Duluth doctor said he was 'shocked' by patient's advances
Dr. Javier De La Garza testified Wednesday he was surprised when he met a woman patient on her parents' boat and the woman's father was not there as she said he would be.
And when she kissed him, De La Garza said, he was shocked.
His shock turned into a "nightmare" more than six months later when the woman went to Duluth police and accused him of sexually assaulting her on that Sept. 27, 2006, afternoon at Barker's Island.
That was De La Garza's version of events as he testified for the first time in Dunn County Circuit Court, where he's standing trial on a charge of third-degree sexual assault.
The 43-year-old preschool teacher who accused the doctor testified earlier that he performed oral sex on her without her consent. She also alleges that he touched her in sexually inappropriate ways during office examinations. De La Garza, 52, testified that he did nothing inappropriate to the woman in his office or on the boat.
The doctor said he met the woman that day because he was considering buying a boat. He said his patient offered to show him her parents' boat and that her father would be there. The woman gave him a tour and he said he began to feel uncomfortable because it dawned on him that she might have planned to have him there alone. He decided to leave after 20 or 25 minutes.
His attorney, Rick Gondik, asked him what happened then.
"I was getting up and she kind of dived at me and gave me a kiss -- kind of on the side of my lips," De La Garza said. "I said, 'Whoa!' It shocked me. It actually stunned me."
Gondik asked him if he could see any kind of visible reaction from the woman.
"She kind of put her head down and kind of acted a little embarrassed. It was very awkward," De La Garza said.
Gondik asked his client what else he said after the woman allegedly kissed him.
"I remember saying 'Oh, no' or 'no,'" De La Garza said.
The doctor said he immediately left the boat. He said he informed his wife of what happened and both decided that he should no longer have the woman as a patient.
Gondik had introduced his client to the jury with a folksy line of questioning after De La Garza told Judge Michael Lucci that he wanted to testify in his own defense.
"I'd like the jury to hear my side of the story. It's been a nightmare," De La Garza said.
The doctor told jurors that he comes from a family that was among the original Spanish soldiers that settled in south Texas in the 1700s. He said a De La Garza fought at the Alamo.
He said he liked to play golf and hunt and that at one time he had the record for shooting the largest elk in North America. He said his trophy is now No. 4 on the all-time largest elk list. He and his wife, Carla, a nurse, have been married 22 years. He said he has seven brothers and sisters and his father was a carpenter.
"I'm not a blue blood," he said.
De La Garza, 52, testified that he has treated almost 6,000 patients at St. Luke's Hospital in Duluth, where he is treats disorders of the stomach and other parts of the gastrointestinal tract.
Assistant Douglas County Attorney James Boughner is prosecuting the case.
Gondik also questioned the husband of the teacher Wednesday.
The computer programmer testified that his wife of 10 years didn't tell him of the alleged assault until about two weeks after it happened. He said that his wife made him promise to her in their bedroom that he wouldn't tell anyone about "something awful" she had to tell him.
"She said that she had something awful to tell me about but that she didn't want me to react by taking any action unless we agreed on the action before we did it," the teacher's husband testified. "She asked me if that was OK, and I said yes. And then she told me what happened."
Gondik said he assumed the man would want to be the only man touching his wife in a sexual way. The man agreed.
"Your wife is telling you she was raped by her doctor," Gondik said, "and you're such a noble guy that you didn't call 911, you didn't tell anybody about this. You didn't go to the hospital. You didn't do anything to protect your wife because she told you not to?"
"That's absolutely correct, because my wife and I have a partnership," the teacher's husband said. "We agree on things together, take positions that involve both of us in our lives that are how we do things, so, yes, I honored her request to do that. She had a high level of embarrassment about what happened."
The woman reported the alleged assault to Duluth police more than six months after it allegedly occurred.
Gondik claims that the report was made only after a news story and graphic appeared in the Duluth News Tribune listing De La Garza as one of the city's highest paid doctors.
The victim said she was too embarrassed and humiliated to report the incident. But when her son's girlfriend was hospitalized she didn't want her or any other girl or woman to be abused by De La Garza the way she said she had been. That's when she decided to report it, she said.