CHARLESTON – Former Charleston gastroenterologist Steven Matulis already is serving time for first-degree sexual abuse of a former patient. But civil litigation against Matulis, Charleston Gastroenterology Associates and Charleston Area Medical Center continues.
Court records related to one consolidated potential class-action case against the former physician details some of the allegations against him, the practice and the hospital.
In a motion filed Aug. 19 in Kanawha Circuit Court, attorneys for a plaintiff identified only as T.W. seek to conduct a psychiatric evaluation of Matulis for the civil proceedings. Her case originally was filed in 2016 after she learned she was sexually abused by Matulis while she was under anesthesia.
The motion says T.W. learned of “the following disturbing misconduct by Matulis and CAMC” during discovery in the case. CGA is a medical practice located at CAMC’s Memorial Hospital.
The amended class action complaint says Matulis was acting as an officer and member of CGA and that “CAMC was aware that Matulis was performing vaginal and breast examinations without the consent of his female patients and negligently and recklessly failed to intervene to prevent the same.”
The 28-page motion filed Aug. 19 claims Matulis subjected nursing students and female patients in CAMC’s endoscopy unit to sexual harassment and unwanted sexual comments.
According to the motion, Matulis asked sexual questions to both female and male staff members. Some of the less graphic ones include, “What’s your favorite position?” “How often do you have sex?” and “Do you shave your pubic hair?”
The amended class action complaint says Matulis’ conduct was “common knowledge among CAMC Staff and administrators.”
“Matulis engaged in a pattern and practice of questioning CAMC staff in the endoscopy suite about their own sexual practices, including their practices regarding oral sex. … Matulis made inappropriate and sexual comments regarding his endoscopy patients, including during those times when he patients were anesthetized for surgery.”
Transcripts of court depositions also show he allegedly showed particular interest in female patients with large breasts and often made comments about patients’ breasts.
“This disturbing behavior went unreported and uncorrected for years,” the motion states.
Matulis also allegedly took photographs of patients’ tattoos, at least two of those known instances were tattoos located on patients’ buttocks.
“Matulis used his personal cell phone and the colonoscope to photograph the tattoos,” the complaint states. “Like the sexual harassment, the nursing staff at CAMC witnessed Matulis take photographs and failed to report the same.”
One deposition detailed such an incident.
“If during the scope of a colonoscopy, Dr. Matulis took off or lifted up the gown of a patient, female patient, and took photographs of her tattoo, would that be inappropriate?” one CAMC manager was asked. She responded affirmatively.
“Would it further be inappropriate for Dr. Matulis to instruct the staff to print the photographs for his own personal use?” she was asked. Again, she answered affirmatively.
“So, that would be inappropriate by Dr. Matulis and by the staff, wouldn’t it?” she was asked, again answering affirmatively.
“It would be inappropriate for the staff not to report that incident directly to you?” she was asked, once against answering affirmatively.
“Because the nurses failed to protect these patients, Matulis (now a convicted sex offender) had free reign to do as he pleased with incapacitated female patients,” the motion states.
The motion also claims Matulis routinely cleaned and wiped patients himself after a colonoscopy, adding that he was the only physician at CAMC to routinely do so.
“Matulis did not undertake this task to help the nursing staff,” the motion states. “Rather, he did it to discretely abuse female patients. Between Jan. 1, 2013, and February 16, 2016, over 1,100 female patients were wiped by Matulis.”
The motion also notes that on Jan. 1, 2013, the CAMC endoscopy unit opened and began using Propofol as the anesthetic instead of conscious sedation. Propofol is a short-acting anesthetic that renders the patient completely unconscious. It also is known as “the drug that killed Michael Jackson” after being given to the pop star by a doctor convicted of involuntary manslaughter in his death.
“Witnesses have testified that Matulis’ misconduct worsened after Jan. 1, 2013, because ‘we had anesthesia involved and our patients were asleep asleep,” one staffer said during a deposition.
Another staffer testified that Matulis would wipe young female patients in a different manner than other patients.
“And was that so – at least in your perception – so he could touch the patient’s vagina?” the staffer was asked during deposition.
“That’s how it appeared, and that’s what I saw,” the staffer replied.
Matulis was convicted of first-degree sexual abuse for fondling T.W.’s breasts while she was under anesthesia.
“I noticed or witnessed Dr. Matulis fondling her breast, the patient’s breast after the upper endoscopy procedure,” one staffer testified. “Dr. Matulis reached in and touched her – touched her breast.”
T.W. also says Matulis inserted his fingers into her vagina while she still was under anesthesia, a claim that is backed up by the deposition of another staffer.
Another staffer corroborated that story and watched Matulis talking to T.W. and her mother after the procedure.
“He was very casual,” the staffer testified. We had a couple of chairs in the discharge area, so he just propped his foot up on one of the extra chairs and was like – just talking. Her mom with with her. I was – I couldn’t – couldn’t bear to look at him, but I saw – I wanted to observe that. There was no notion he did anything wrong.”
Another staffer said that behavior was typical for Matulis.
“During a colonoscopy … I noticed his grip on the scope,” the staffer said during a deposition. “In all the procedures I’ve done with him before, he changed the grip from being back away from the patient to directly against the patient, which kind of got my attention because I hadn’t seen it before.
“And then, he made the impression as he was still trying to make the scope go forward, but where his hand was up against the patient, it was – really wasn’t going anywhere. And he had slipped his finger off the scope, his hand still on the scope, and he put his finger in her vagina.”
The motion says Matulis’ misconduct was so severe and common that CAMC employees tried to predict who “his next victim” would be.
“Nurses or surgical techs would put a star beside the names of female patients whom they believed would be sexually abused by Matulis,” the motion states. “This served as an alert system for nurses to be on the lookout.”
T.W. did have a star beside her name, according to court records.
The amended class action complaint says Matulis generated “a significant portion” of CAMC’s endoscopy business and performed more procedures than other surgeons.
“For this reason, Dr. Matulis’ egregious conduct, as aforesaid, was tolerated by CAMC and the endoscopy staff,” the complaint states. “Charleston Gastroenterology was aware that Matulis was performing vaginal and breast examinations without the consent of his female patients and negligently and recklessly failed to intervene to prevent the same.”
Numerous statements in court documents by CAMC and CGA employees, including management, support those claims.
Attorneys for Matulis responded to T.W.’s motion seeking a psychiatric exam, saying there is no basis for it.
“Dr. Matulis has never placed his physical or mental condition at issue,” his answer states. “The motion has arisen because of a concerted effort by plaintiff T.W. and others have to manufacture a controversy concerning Dr. Matulis’ mental or physical condition.”
In November, Matulis was sentenced to prison for 1 to 5 years for first-degree sexual abuse. In October, a jury convicted him on the one count and acquitted him on two counts of sexual assault. Along with jail time, Matulis was ordered to pay $10,000 in fines, register as a sex offender and he faces five years of supervised release.
Matulis was accused of inappropriately touching patients while they were under anesthesia for procedures. When the investigation began three years ago, his medical license was switched to inactive.
Matulis was initially charged with five counts of second-degree assault and two counts of first-degree sexual abuse. Several of the charges were dismissed prior to Matulis' trial by the circuit judge. At his trial, more than 25 people testified against Matulis, including four victims.
There are several civil lawsuits filed against Matulis over the last three years, most also suing CAMC and/or Charleston Gastroenterology Associates. The lawsuits each allege that Matulis sexually abused or assaulted the plaintiff patients.
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Aug. 30 before Discovery Commissioner David Hendrickson.
The potential class members are being represented by a host of attorneys, including Dante diTrapano, David Carriger, Ben Salango, Marvin Masters, Rob Berthold and Rod Jackson. Matulis is represented by Isaac Forman. CGA is represented by Jack Kessler. CAMC is being represented by Lee Murray Hall and Heather Jones.
DiTrapano declined to discuss the case, saying he wouldn’t comment during “ongoing litigation and class certification motion practice.”
Forman, who handled Matulis' criminal defense, declined to comment on pending litigation as well.
In the proposed class action, the plaintiffs would seek joint and several compensatory and punitive damages from Matulis, CGA and CAMC. They also seek damages for humiliation, embarrassment, emotional distress, violation of and invasion of their right to be free of discrimination as well as performing medical and other procedures on them without consent. They also seek pre- and post-judgment interests, attorney fees and court costs.
The plaintiffs’ motion to certify the class is due Sept. 2. That potential class is styled A.H. and Adriana Fleming vs. Matulis, CGA and CAMC. It is being heard by Kanawha Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey.
Kanawha Circuit Court case numbers 18-C-497 (A.H. and Fleming) and 16-C-497 (T.W.)