Surendra Johri, NY psychiatrist – trial begins – accused of engaging in sexual misconduct with patients

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Observer Dispatch
Sex abuse trial begins for New Hartford psychiatrist Johri
By Jolene Cleaver
February 4, 2019

Psychiatrist Surendra Johri

Psychiatrist Surendra Johri

UTICA — The first of two alleged sexual assault victims took the stand Monday in Utica City Court to testify against their former psychiatrist, Dr. Surendra Johri.

Johri, of New Hartford, is accused of engaging in sexual misconduct with those patients on three separate occasions in 2017. Also testifying at his bench trial Monday were mental health professionals and law enforcement officials who investigated the claims lodged by the two victims.

“This case has to do with the abuse of power,” said Oneida County Assistant District Attorney Maria Murad Blais, in her opening statement. “We put doctors on a very high pedestal … We go to doctors because we need them. The victims relied on Dr. Johri to help them. To fix them. He is a predator who preyed on the weak.”

According to court documents, Johri faces two third-degree sexual abuse charges and two forcible touching charges related to alleged incidents involving one patient on Jan. 21 and April 15, 2017. He’s also charged with another count of each crime related to an alleged incident involving the second patient on Nov. 11, 2017.

All three incidents allegedly occurred during psychiatric patient sessions at Community Health and Behavioral Services in Utica, where Johri used to be an independent contractor, according to the court papers.

The Observer-Dispatch does not name alleged victims of sexual abuse.

During Monday’s testimony, the woman who accused Johri of assaulting her on Nov. 11, 2017, took the stand to detail the incident. While she had some trouble remembering the exact date it happened, she said in the months leading up to that appointment Johri would engage in conversation about her sex life. He also made non-sexual physical contact that she felt uncomfortable with, she said. But when she objected, he would stop.

Then, during the Nov. 11 appointment, she said, Johri “leaned over and kissed me with his mouth open” while he was recording her height and weight. His hand touched her private areas, she said, and he “pulled out his penis and brushed it up against my leg.”

Previous allegations

In addition to the charges Johri currently faces, he previously was accused of third-degree sexual abuse by another patient last year.

That case ended with a not guilty verdict after a June 2018 trial in Utica City Court.

“I was in shock,” she said.

The woman testified that she immediately gathered her things and left the office. She also reported the incident to supervisors at the health center about 10 days later.

Asked why she kept seeing Johri if he was already making her uncomfortable leading up to the Nov. 11 appointment, the woman said it can be hard to switch providers.

“I did not want to start with somebody new,” she said, noting that she had experienced traumatic events in her past. “I have trust issues. And I trusted him. Now that’s gone.”

During the testimony of Investigator Patrick Anson of the New York State Justice Center — a state office tasked with investigating complaints against providers who serve special needs populations — it was opined that at times during an interview leading up to the trial, Johri was reserved and not always forthcoming with answers.

Christopher Pelli, Johri’s attorney, asked Anson if Johri’s heavy accent was a challenge, and Anson agreed that at times it could be.

This line of questioning followed an assertion Pelli made in his opening argument that “this entire investigation and prosecution is nothing more than a hunt for a brown man with a funny accent.”

Pelli also challenged the court to pay attention to discrepancies among witnesses and statements that detail when alleged incidents took place.

The trial will continue Tuesday morning.