Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tampa surgeon who hid bullet gets probation

TAMPA — What was he thinking?

That was the big question last month after authorities accused Dr. David J. Ciesla of removing a bullet from the body of a murder suspect to keep as a souvenir.

On Monday, the chief of Tampa General Hospital's trauma center resolved his court case but didn't clear up the mystery.

He pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges, agreeing to serve two years of probation and perform 100 hours of community service as part of a plea deal.

His attorney said Ciesla, 42, was sorry, but they both refused to take questions from reporters.

Investigative documents released Monday helped fill the void.

The most revealing account of what occurred in the operating room on April 21 came from Dr. Sergio Alvarez, then a first-year resident in the plastic surgery department at the University of South Florida.

Alvarez assisted Ciesla during the surgery. They were looking for a bullet that appeared to be lodged in the abdomen of a fugitive who had been shot twice by a deputy U.S. marshal trying to take him into custody.

"There it is," Ciesla said during the operation.

Alvarez saw the bullet on top of the man's liver.

"There's the bullet," Alvarez agreed.

Ciesla immediately said, "No it's not."

"Yes it is," Alvarez said.

Ciesla looked up from the patient and toward Alvarez.

"You didn't see a bullet," Ciesla said, according to the records.

Alvarez told investigators he did not say anything else about the bullet during the procedure, hesitant to further challenge the attending physician.

About an hour into the surgery, Ciesla was relieved by another doctor so he could attend a conference call. As the other doctor turned from the operating table to wash up, Alvarez said he heard Ciesla say, "I almost forgot."

Ciesla reached in the fugitive's body and removed the bullet.

"This is what we do with bullets," Ciesla said, according to Alvarez, before placing the bullet inside the rubber glove on his right hand.

Alvarez watched as Ciesla went to speak with two Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents, who were waiting 5 to 7 feet away inside the operating room to take the bullets into evidence. Ciesla told them the bullets were still stuck in the suspect's body.

But he put the slug in his pocket before leaving the room, Alvarez said.

Alvarez reported the incident to his supervisors.

"I felt uncomfortable from the moment it occurred," he told investigators.

Ciesla returned the bullet on April 28 after being confronted by university officials. He apologized to an FDLE agent for being "indirect" with him and said he didn't mean to interfere with the investigation.

The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office charged Ciesla in July with providing false information to law enforcement during an investigation and obstructing or opposing an officer without violence.

On Monday, County Judge Cheryl Thomas withheld adjudication, meaning Ciesla won't have a conviction on his record. He will be eligible for an early termination of his probation after one year if all the requirements have been met.

Attorney John Fitzgibbons spoke with reporters afterward, his client standing silently by.

"He is sorry for any problems that were caused by his conduct,'' Fitzgibbons said. "Now it's time to move on."

He said it hasn't been decided what kind of community service the doctor will perform.

Fitzgibbons said Ciesla appreciated the support he has received from the medical community. Court records show that Ronald Hytoff, president and CEO of Tampa General, praised Ciesla as "an invaluable asset" in a letter to prosecutors.

Ciesla still could be disciplined by the state or his employer.

As of Monday, his medical license was clear and active, according to the Florida Department of Health.

USF health spokeswoman Anne DeLotto Baier said the doctor remains a full-time employee at the university. He also serves as division director of trauma/critical care for the medical school.

"We are still undergoing our internal review," she said. "Until that's done, we will have no further comment."

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at or (813) 226-3337.

Tampa surgeon who hid bullet gets probation 08/17/09 [Last modified: Friday, August 21, 2009 6:30pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Once 'angry' about Obamacare, Republican David Jolly came to see it as 'safety net'


    Former Congressman David Jolly, who ran against Obamacare in 2013, said in an interview Monday night that he now considers it a "safety net."

  2. Five children hospitalized after chlorine release at Tampa pool store


    Five children were sickened at a pool store north of Tampa on Monday after a cloud of chlorine was released, according to Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.

  3. Deputies find unidentified decomposing body in Dunedin canal

    Public Safety

    DUNEDIN — Pinellas County sheriff's deputies found an unidentified male body floating in a Dunedin canal Monday afternoon, the Sheriff's Office said.

  4. Rays acquire slick-fielding shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria from Marlins

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Chaim Bloom said the Rays weren't necessarily in the market for a shortstop. The team has a number of those. But when the Marlins recently began shopping Adeiny Hechavarria, well, that was too much to pass up.

    Adeiny Hechavarria has emerged as one of baseball’s top defensive shortstops in the past three seasons with the Marlins.
  5. Lightning journal: Forward Yanni Gourde agrees to two-year deal

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Just three years ago, Yanni Gourde was fighting to stay in pro hockey.

    Tampa Bay Lightning center Yanni Gourde celebrates after scoring against the Florida Panthers during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 11, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) TPA108