CONTENT WARNING: This story mentions sexual assault and abuse.
Five years after leaving USC, former university gynecologist George Tyndall is scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing Friday at Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center. Tyndall faces 12 counts of sexual battery by fraud and 23 counts of sexual penetration of an unconscious person. If convicted on all charges, Tyndall could be sentenced to up to 64 years in prison.
This will be the first time that Tyndall faces charges in a criminal court. If found guilty of any counts, he must register with the sex offender registry.
Prosecutors from the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office allege the crimes occurred between 2009 and 2016 and involved 21 female patients who Tyndall, the university’s sole gynecologist, according to court filings. None of the women are named.
Tyndall has denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty to all 35 felony charges.
The preliminary hearing began in November 2021 with two USC alumni and former patients of Tyndall testifying about their experiences. It resumed in December and January 2022, when four additional USC alumni took the stand. When it concludes, the judge will decide whether the evidence warrants a trial for Tyndall.
The allegations against Tyndall first became public in 2018 when the LA Times published an investigation detailing decades of alleged sexual abuse. The reports stunned university faculty, staff and students alike, prompting a question: how could such misconduct go unchecked and unpunished for decades?
Former USC President C.L. Max Nikias stepped down in 2018, and the USC Board of Trustees promised a cultural shift that would make the “safety of students and patients” a “top priority.”
Since the publication of the Times investigation — which won a Pulitzer Prize — the magnitude of Tyndall’s alleged abuse became clearer. While the court case is limited to less than two dozen victims, the lawsuit cites as many as 17,000 potential victims, and the number could be higher. In his first 10 years at USC, the university estimated he treated around 20,000 patients.
Since Tyndall’s departure in 2017, USC reached two separate settlements, totaling $1.1 billion. In October 2018, the university agreed to a $215-million federal class-action settlement with more than 18,000 women who had been treated by Tyndall. In March 2021, the university agreed to pay $852 million to 710 women.
“The reason the university ended up paying a billion dollars is not because the board of directors and Rick Caruso are wonderful people,” said John Manly, partner and founder at Manly, Stewart & Finaldi, who served as lead counsel in the lawsuits filed against the university. “They paid it at the point of a legal gun.”
Tyndall and his attorney did not respond to requests for comment.
In a statement to Annenberg Media, the university said in the five years since Tyndall’s departure, it has introduced “sweeping reforms” and “structural changes” designed to prevent this kind of behavior from happening again. These efforts included hiring more female physicians to treat students and creating the Office of Equity, Equal Opportunity, and Title IX Office (EEO-TIX).
“This didn’t happen only because Tyndall was male,” said Manly about the effort to hire more female physicians. “It happened because Tyndall was abusing his patients and no one stopped him, even though they knew.”
Manly said the only way to stop systemic abuse is to charge those involved in covering it up when there is evidence proving so.
At the same time that Tyndall was working at the university, Dennis Kelly, a former men’s health physician at USC, was sexually abusing gay and bisexual men, a lawsuit alleges. Kelly did not stop seeing patients at USC until 2018, after over 20 years at the university.
Since Tyndall’s departure, there have been several sexual assault accusations made against university employees, including a former Marshall professor.
As the Tyndall case makes its way through criminal court, questions remain about what USC’s administration knew of the allegations and of Tyndall’s behavior and why former Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey – a USC alumnus – chose not to further investigate university officials.
“The evidence showed there was systemic knowledge throughout the leadership at the health center and all the way to the dean, that there were complaints,” said Manly.
In an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times in November 2021, Ariela Gross, a USC law and history professor, addressed the “administration’s toxic culture.”
Gross blasted the university for giving Tyndall a severance package and the option to “quietly” leave his post at the university without informing his patients, the Los Angeles Police Department or the Medical Board of California.
According to university records turned over to the court, Tyndall was placed on administrative leave in June 2016 after a Nursing Supervisor at the Student Health Center reported Tyndall to USC’s Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention and Services. The university then discovered “old photographs and slides of patient services” in Tyndall’s office.
USC hired a physician auditor service, MD Review, to review Tyndall’s record and practices. According to the university, “even independent medical evaluators did not conclude he was necessarily unfit.”
Another investigation conducted by a USC office formerly known as USC Office of Equity and Diversity (OED), concluded that Tyndall had “violated university policies against racial and sexual harassment.”
In response to a court order, the university unsealed hundreds of documents in 2019 pertaining to Tyndall’s work at USC Health. Complaints about Tyndall’s care as a physician began as early as 1995 including instances of misdiagnoses and failing to follow confidentiality protocols.
In a written address to the court in 2019, Shon Morgan, a trial lawyer who represents the university, said that during Tyndall’s first 10 years with the university – between 1989 and 1999 – there were no complaints regarding “sexually inappropriate conduct or statements.” Supervisors learned he was “photographically documenting” the conditions of his patients. Tyndall provided written explanations about the occurrence and was told to stop using photography.
Between 2000 and 2009, the university received “fewer than twenty complaints” regarding Tyndall. In one of these instances, several nurses and medical assistants complained that Tyndall would not allow them behind the curtain during gynecological exams.
In another instance, a student reached out to Dr. Lawrence Nienstein, Tyndall’s direct supervisor, via email about Tyndall complimenting her pubic hair during an exam.
“From between my legs, he said, ‘This is nice. Laser hair removal?’” the email read.
“The aforementioned appointment took place seven months ago, but I have been too uncomfortable to report the inappropriate comments despite my frustration,” said the student. “I am telling you now because it is my belief that other female students have been in similar disturbing situations and I know that change cannot take place without awareness.”
Neinstein “explained [to Tyndall] that such comments were inappropriate” and that Tyndall “understood and would comply,” according to court documents.
By 2010, reports about Tyndall’s behavior increased. Complaints included an instance of an ungloved vaginal examination and inappropriate racial or sexual comments, most of which Tyndall denied doing. Morgan, in court papers, said the USC Office of Equity and Diversity investigated the complaints.
Tyndall was terminated in May 2017 and officially resigned in June 2017 after mediation.
Morgan and the university said Tyndall did not treat another patient at the university once put on leave in 2016.
With so much evidence of Tyndall’s misbehavior, both related to sexual abuse and offensive comments, many question why former DA Lacey did not open a criminal case sooner.
Manly was especially critical of Lacey’s decision to not prosecute until 2019 and accused her of having a “cozy relationship with the university” as an alumnus.
“I think there would have been and should have been indictments of university personnel for enabling him,” Manly said. “The message this sends is that if you’re a big institution and you cover this up, there’s not going to be any consequence to you.”
Lacey did not respond to requests for comment by phone.
The documents surrendered by the university due to the court order became public in May 2019. The criminal case did not enter the court’s database until June 2019.
After almost three decades of alleged abuse that ultimately cost the university a billion dollars, Tyndall’s accusers, along with others, wonder why authorities failed to investigate the USC administration’s handling of the complaints.
Joseph Giacalone, a retired NYPD sergeant and an adjunct in the Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration Department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, called it “the million-dollar question.”
Giacalone said the first thing he would’ve done when the Tyndall allegations became public would be to subpoena phone and email records to “find who knew what, where, when, how, and why.”
“When you’re investigating anything there’s a lot of morality and ethics involved,” said Giacalone. “And no matter what the evidence shows, [the university] has to be honest with the public because if not, nobody will trust you.”
USC is not the only university with the issue of transparency and sexual assault from its university doctors. UCLA gynecologist, James Heaps, has been accused of groping women and making inappropriate comments, among other things. UCLA was named for failing to take action in the suit that resulted in a $73 million settlement.
Manly drew similarities between the UCLA and USC cases.
“What [the universities] all have in common is institutional enablement, clear notice to the institution that they were acting inappropriately over and over again,” he said. “And the institution did nothing to stop it. They made excuses, they ignored whistleblowers.”
Manly said thousands of victims continued to meet with these abusive physicians because the universities failed to intervene and protect them.
“This kind of systemic abuse is a feature of academic medicine,” he said.
Manly also represented women in the lawsuit against Larry Nassar, a Michigan State University physician convicted of sexually abusing women on the U.S. gymnastics team.
“The nightmare for many of our clients testifying in the trial isn’t over,” Manly said. “Having to recount their stories publicly in front of people you don’t know, with media there, that’s not a fun event for them, but they’re going to do it. And they’re going to do it because they never ever want this to happen to another young woman.”