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Jury finds doctor not guilty of groping female assistant

Dr. Gunwant Dhaliwal was found guilty in May 2011 on one charge of misdemeanor battery.
Dr. Gunwant Dhaliwal was found guilty in May 2011 on one charge of misdemeanor battery.
Published Nov. 28, 2014

NEW PORT RICHEY — Six and a half years after he was first accused of illegally touching an employee in his medical clinic, Dr. Gunwant Dhaliwal has been found not guilty in a criminal trial.

Now, he says, life can finally resume.

"We definitely feel relieved putting this six years of suffering behind us," said Dhaliwal, 53. "Especially my wife. . . . I could see her sitting in the courtroom alone for three days, listening to all of these things, and stood by waiting for the final judgment, for those two words:

"Not guilty."

Women had long complained to police and the courts that Dhaliwal fondled them when they visited his medical offices in Spring Hill and New Port Richey, though the statute of limitations had run out for most accusers. The board-certified internist also had been sued multiple times in both Pasco and Hernando counties before being criminally charged in May 2008 with two counts of misdemeanor battery.

In May 2011, he was found guilty on one of the charges. Marissa White, a woman visiting his clinic on State Road 54 with pain from a car crash, said Dhaliwal pushed her back on the exam table, lifted her shirt and grabbed her breasts. Dhaliwal denied the allegations at the trial, but a jury convicted him. He was sentenced to 10 days in jail and court fines. Because of the conviction, his medical license was suspended for six months in 2013 and he had to pay $10,000 in fines, according to Florida Department of Health records. The Health Department also ordered Dhaliwal to have a female health care practitioner chaperone whenever he examined or treated a female patient.

Dhaliwal later settled a civil suit with White out of court.

A few months after the criminal conviction, a civil jury decided that the doctor groped another woman, Danielle Turner, and ordered that he pay her $820,000 in damages.

Turner was the woman involved in Dhaliwal's second misdemeanor battery case, which went to trial this month. A six-person jury found him not guilty of groping Turner, a newly hired physician's assistant.

The difference between the outcomes of the civil case and the criminal one, Dhaliwal said, was a matter of evidence. He blamed shoddy legal representation for his initial loss, saying his first lawyer failed to present evidence that swayed jurors in the most recent trial.

The jury did not hear about any other allegations against Dhaliwal — just Turner's — after a judge ruled such material inadmissible.

Turner testified in both trials, saying she visited Dhaliwal's clinic after hours in February 2007 so the doctor could demonstrate a facial skin treatment she would be performing. Turner said Dhaliwal finished the treatment, then reached under her shirt and fondled her breasts.

In the civil trial, a victim advocate testified that Turner's face was red and raw the next day, as it would be after a microdermabrasion treatment.

Dhaliwal testified that the incident never happened. He said he and Turner only chatted in the lobby and that his microdermabrasion machine hadn't been used in years.

He said the same thing at his criminal trial this month — with evidence.

An office manager who was there that night testified that the incident never happened, as did a man present for a scheduled business meeting, said Dhaliwal's attorney, George Tragos. He also presented billing statements and office records showing that the microdermabrasion machine had not been used in years.

Tragos said there was "a complete lack of evidence on the state's part."

Jurors deliberated for 45 minutes.

"We were ecstatic," Tragos said. "It's just been a long ordeal and he's had to suffer a lot for it, but finally he's been vindicated."

Dhaliwal has an appeal pending on yet another case. In March 2012, he was charged in Pinellas County with improper exhibition of a firearm, a misdemeanor. He was convicted in January and sentenced to 60 days in jail, followed by a year of probation, according to Pinellas court records. He has appealed.

In the meantime, Dhaliwal continues to practice medicine at his Primary Care Walk In Clinics in Pasco.

He won't discuss the details of past cases but says the reason women have accused him is simple: "It is greed. That is what I will say. Greed can make people do anything."

He said his wife and two sons are thankful the ordeal has ended.

"We just want to forget everything and get on with our lives," he said. "There is a brighter day tomorrow."

Contact Claire McNeill at cmcneill@tampabay.com or (813) 909-4613.