Former USC medical school dean no longer seeing patients; Pasadena police discipline officer

The former dean of USC’s medical school is on leave and is no longer seeing patients after the Los Angeles Times reported that he associated with criminals and drug users who said he abused methamphetamine and other drugs, university officials said Monday.

Carmen A. Puliafito led the Keck School of Medicine for nearly a decade before resigning in 2016. He remained on the Keck faculty and continued to represent the university at public events.

Puliafito, a noted ophthalmologist, also continued to accept patients at campus eye clinics as recently as this weekend, according to his USC Web page.

The Times published its investigation Monday. USC said in a statement later in the day that it was “following all proper procedures to review his status in patient care. He is currently on leave from his roles at USC, including seeing patients.”

“If the assertions reported in the July 17 Los Angeles Times story are true, we hope that Carmen receives care and treatment that will lead him to a full recovery,” the statement said. Officials declined to comment further.

As of Monday, Puliafito’s USC Web page had been changed to say he is “not accepting or seeing patients.”

Also, a tweet sent Friday by the USC Roski Eye Institute, announcing that Puliafito was among five doctors who had been inducted into the Retina Hall of Fame, was deleted.

Puliafito, 66, is a renowned eye surgeon whose skill in the operating room was matched by his gift for attracting talent and money to the medical school. USC officials hired the Harvard-educated physician in 2007 to raise the profile and ranking of the Keck School.

As dean, he oversaw hundreds of medical students and thousands of professors and clinicians. He was also a key fundraiser for USC, bringing in more than $1 billion in donations, by his own estimation.

Puliafito resigned his $1.1-million-a-year dean’s post in March 2016, in the middle of the spring term, saying he wanted to explore outside opportunities.

He did not mention that three weeks earlier, a 21-year-old woman had overdosed in his presence in a Pasadena hotel room. The woman was rushed to a hospital, where she recovered. Police found methamphetamine in the hotel room, according to a police report, but made no arrests.

The incident drew no notice, but a tip about it led The Times to investigate.

The newspaper found that during his tenure as dean, Puliafito kept company with a circle of criminals and drug users. They captured their exploits in photos and videos shot in 2015 and 2016.

In one video, a tuxedo-clad Puliafito displays an orange pill on his tongue and says into the camera, “Thought I’d take an ecstasy before the ball.” Then he swallows the pill.

In another, Puliafito uses a butane torch to heat a large glass pipe outfitted for methamphetamine use. He inhales and then unleashes a thick plume of white smoke. Seated next to him on a sofa, a young woman smokes heroin from a piece of heated foil.

The overdose occurred at the Hotel Constance in Pasadena. Just before 5 p.m. on March 4, 2016, a hotel employee called 911 to report that a guest had suffered an apparent overdose. The woman, Sarah Warren, now 22, told The Times she became incapacitated while using drugs with Puliafito.

Pasadena police did not write a report on the incident. After The Times made repeated requests for information, the department acknowledged that an officer at the scene should have prepared a report, and he was belatedly ordered to do so.

In the report, Puliafito is identified as a witness to the overdose and as a “friend” of the victim.The rest of the document is heavily redacted.

No arrests were made, and Warren told The Times that Pasadena police never interviewed her

A Pasadena councilman said Monday that the Police Department conducted an internal inquiry and determined that the officer handled the case inappropriately.

Councilman Victor Gordo said Police Chief Phillip Sanchez told him the officer might have prematurely determined the overdose was a “medical incident,” as opposed to a possible crime scene.

Gordo said Sanchez assured him the case was ultimately investigated fully and that “appropriate actions have been taken in order to ensure that this does not occur again.”

City government spokesman William Boyer said the officer had been disciplined. He declined to say how.

Sanchez did not return a call seeking comment.

Pasadena City Manager Steve Mermell on Monday sent a memo to council members saying that The Times’ account of the hotel incident “reflects poorly on the city and the Pasadena Police Department.”

“As indicated in the article, initially there was no police report made of the incident,” Mermell said. “There should have been and that was a failure on the part of our responding officer. Once this came to light, [police] undertook an appropriate investigation and ultimately the involved officer was the subject of disciplinary action.”

Still, Councilman Tyron Hampton said he wanted a written explanation for why a police report wasn’t promptly prepared.

“If that was my daughter or your daughter, you’d want to make sure that the people who are here to protect and serve you are doing all they can to protect you,” said Hampton, a member of the council’s public safety committee. “I’ll make sure we’re transparent.”

Puliafito did not return a phone call and email seeking comment.

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UPDATES:

8:40 p.m.: This article was updated with additional comments from USC and from Pasadena’s city manager.

This article was first published at 7:45 p.m.

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