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Duluth surgeon faces sexual assault charges

A Duluth surgeon is accused in Douglas County Circuit Court of sexually assaulting a woman patient while on the woman's parents' boat at Barker's Island Marina in Superior.

A Duluth surgeon is accused in Douglas County Circuit Court of sexually assaulting a woman patient while on the woman's parents' boat at Barker's Island Marina in Superior.

Dr. Javier Enrique De La Garza, 51, a gastroenterologist with St. Luke's Hospital, is charged with the felony offense of third-degree sexual assault for allegedly having sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent.

De La Garza was working at the hospital Monday. A spokesman in his office took a message seeking the doctor's comment. The phone call wasn't returned.

After being contacted by the News Tribune, St. Luke's issued a prepared statement:

"An allegation was made by a female patient involving Dr. Javier De La Garza, St. Luke's Gastroenterology Associates, dating back to September 2006. Both St. Luke's and Dr. De La Garza are cooperating fully in the investigation.

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"St. Luke's is not aware of any charges against Dr. De La Garza. This is a very difficult situation for all parties concerned and, as this is an unresolved matter, we have no further comment at this time."

De La Garza is scheduled to make his first court appearance on the charge on Aug. 1.

According to the criminal complaint:

The woman, now 41, told a Duluth police investigator that she was referred to De La Garza by her primary-care physician because she had experienced episodes of severe abdominal pain and bloating for about 10 years.

The woman said that during her first appointments De La Garza would press her abdomen when she was fully clothed. Over time, the defendant would ask his patient to unbutton her pants and pull up her shirt to give him access to the area where the pain was occurring. The woman said that during her regular monthly examinations De La Garza began digitally probing her sexual organs. She said the doctor said he was feeling those areas for lymph nodes.

During one alleged extended probing of her sexual organs, the woman said De La Garza told her "Bless your soul, bless your soul." The woman said she told the doctor that his touching was making her very uncomfortable. She said De La Garza responded by saying, "This is very hard to diagnose."

A gastroenterologist is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, including the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, pancreas, liver and gallbladder.

The woman said she had told the doctor that her parents had a boat and De La Garza said he would like to see the boat. The woman agreed to show it to him.

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On Sept. 27, 2006, the woman met De La Garza at Barker's Island Marina. She said the doctor didn't seem very interested in the boat, but suggested that as long as they were there he might as well give her a brief examination.

They went below in the cabin of the boat, where the woman said a sexual assault took place. She said she started crying and shaking, and De La Garza responded by saying: "Bless your soul, bless your soul."

According to the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice, De La Garza has faced no disciplinary or corrective action. His medical degree is from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Dallas, Southwestern Medical School. He has practiced at St. Luke's since 2004, a hospital spokeswoman said.

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