Allegations of misconduct by doctors at USC’s student health clinic continue to grow, with 18 additional men joining a lawsuit against a former men’s health physician accused of inappropriate conduct and sexual contact with his patients, a law firm announced Thursday.
For the first time, two victims publicly discussed their experiences with Dr. Dennis Kelly in a Thursday morning press conference, describing a pattern of invasive questions and medically unnecessary treatment that left them ashamed and traumatized.
A total of 39 plaintiffs are involved in the suit originally filed Feb. 7 by Kellogg & Van Aken, and that firm says D. Miller & Associates is representing another 11 men, bringing the number of accusers to 50.
For 20 years, Kelly was the only full-time men’s sexual health physician at the campus’ Engemann Student Health Center — a tenure that was marked with repeated complaints about his conduct with gay and bisexual students, according to D. Miller & Associates, which is also bringing a separate lawsuit against USC and former student health gynecologist George Tyndall.
USC is also named as a defendant in Kellogg & Van Aken’s 72-page complaint, which involves a litany of allegations including sexual battery and harassment, gender violence, negligent hiring and retention, intentional infliction of emotional distress and sexual abuse and discrimination in an educational setting.
The complaint for damages also alleges USC knew of Kelly’s inappropriate conduct for years but failed to take appropriate action to protect students under his care.
Kelly, who retired last year, has denied any inappropriate behavior and called the allegations “terribly hurtful,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
The allegations bear a disturbing similarity to those lodged against Tyndall, who’s been accused by hundreds of current and former students of inappropriate comments and touching during physical exams, among other things. A proposed $215 million settlement reached in one case against him stipulates that the campus implement reforms to prevent abuse and misconduct.
Similar patterns of behavior emerge in the claims made against Kelly by men represented by Kellogg & Van Aken. Many of the plaintiffs identify as gay or bisexual.
In a statement, USC said it is aware of the lawsuit and finds the allegations concerning.
“We’re working to understand the facts of this matter,” the statement reads. “We care deeply about our entire Trojan family, including our LGBTQ+ community, and take this matter very seriously.”
Kelly would allegedly begin appointments with a series of invasive questions about the patient’s sexual history and experience, including the names, ages and races of their partners, specific acts they performed and whether and what type of sex toys they used. He asked one patient whether he was into older men or “twinks” and how often he “topped and bottomed,” according to attorney Kelly Van Aken.
He allegedly would ask patients to remove their pants and underwear in front of him without any privacy, robe or covering, then told them to climb on the exam table on their hands and knees before penetrating them rectally without warning. Kelly would then sometimes have them turn over onto their backs and begin touching their genitalia inappropriately, the complaint states.
“Because USC promoted its student health center as a safe place for students to gain access to high-quality medical care, students placed their trust and confidence in Dr. Kelly, assuming that his conduct during these visits was necessary and appropriate,” attorney Mikayla Gow Kellogg said.
In one instance, Kelly allegedly forced a rectal exam on a grad student suffering intermittent rectal pain and bleeding after being sexually assaulted. The exam was preceded by questions about the attack, and when the patient said he felt it was unnecessary to repeat the incident already documented in his chart and relive the trauma, Kelly told the man he couldn’t treat him unless he answered, Van Aken said.
Van Aken says Kelly went on to push the shocked and traumatized student for details, eventually responding that it was “normal sexual activity” and something that “people do for pleasure” before asking if the victim had welcomed or enjoyed forcible penetration.
Another plaintiff claims that, as Kelly inserted a medical device into his rectum, the doctor asked, “How often do you let your partners come in you?”
Van Aken said several patients left their exams in tears.
That includes Ali Jalal-Kamali, a computer science PhD student who first saw Kelly in fall 2017 when he needed to obtain PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis taken by people at risk of developing HIV.
Jalal-Kamali said Kelly immediately made him “quite uncomfortable” with inappropriate questions and “the creepy smile that he had on his face throughout the conversation.”
The doctor went on to mock, scold, guilt and shame the student “for anything any everything he felt like he could, based on information he forced out of me, as if it brought him some sick joy or satisfaction,” Jalal-Kamali said. “He went on to objectify my partner at the time based on my partner’s racial stereotypes, reducing his humanity to the potential size of his genitals.”
He was already uneasy talking about sex as an international student and didn’t want to answer Kelly’s questions, which included locations he had sex, when he lost his virginity and were laced in derogatory language. But the doctor told him he had to answer to get PrEP, Jalal-Kamali said.
After the painful inquiry, Kelly demanded Jalal-Kamali fully expose himself “while he played with my privates for an extended period of time,” the plaintiff said.
“The process continued as I had more and more visits because he demanded it, and because he forced me to come again and again without providing PrEP medicine,” Jalal-Kamali said. “I felt so uncomfortable that I finally decided not to pursue getting PrEP medication anymore while I got into a monogamous relationship, and because Kelly made it so difficult for me to get it.”
Jalal-Kamali said he eventually went to the West Hollywood LGBT Center and was able to get PrEP within a few hours, no invasive questions asked.
The other victim who spoke at Thursday’s press conference, 32-year-old John Keyes, began attending USC as an undergrad in 2006. He said he saw Kelly for the first sexual health exam of his life at the beginning of his second semester on campus — when he was, as he described, “a young, naïve gay man.”
“Dr. Kelly’s bedside manner was immediately off-putting,” Keyes said. “I remember him focusing on specific details, such as where I met my sexual partners, whether I frequented sex clubs or participated in online sex chats.”
Kelly used offensive slang “that made it clear he believed I was sexually promiscuous,” which Keyes said took him aback.
“I didn’t know why Dr. Kelly was making these comments, or how I was supposed to interpret them,” he said.
Kelly then insisted on performing a rectal exam, watching as the student removed his clothes from the waist down then got on the exam table on his hands and knees with no covering, Keyes said. He alleges the doctor then suddenly inserted what felt like a tube and long cotton swab, without warning or explanation.
“I was so embarrassed,” Keyes said. “I felt exposed and helpless.”
He said the experience “traumatized me in ways I’m still struggling to fully process.” But he buried the experience, and saw Kelly again when he made another routine appointment a year later.
“Like clockwork, he insisted on performing another rectal exam,” Keyes said. “More than just the crass and unprofessional language, it was Dr. Kelly’s insistence on the rectal exam — knowing how he would perform it — that made me fearful all over again. The knot I felt in the pit of my stomach was how no patient should feel with their doctor.”
Keyes said he refused the exam, resolved to never see Kelly again and, in fact, never went back to USC for his sexual health needs.