During the quiet early morning hours at University Medical Center, a sexual predator worked for 23 months, preying on vulnerable surgery patients while convincing his supervisors nothing was amiss.
Daniel Lugo Perez, a former UMC patient-care technician, was sentenced this month to 57 years in prison for using his fingers and fists to sexually assault three bone-surgery patients.
Though Perez’s criminal case is over for now, police are investigating two more possible attacks at UMC and allegations he assaulted a 6-year-old girl in South Tucson.
For his victims, the question remains how Perez was able to work for two years at a hospital that has received nationwide honors for nursing excellence. The answer appears twofold: The hospital’s failure to call police, and staff members’ disagreement or misunderstanding about patient care policies and procedures.
Court documents, trial testimony and pretrial interviews provide insight into what happened, and didn’t happen, after Perez began working with patients in July 2002. The interviews were conducted in January 2005 by a prosecutor and Perez’s lawyer, in the presence of hospital attorneys.
At least three UMC nurses thought Perez was staying too long in female patients’ rooms. Just as many became suspicious of his behavior. But little was documented or communicated—even after a patient repeatedly accused Perez of assault and the hospital investigated.
One nurse who spoke out was pegged a racist. Her observations the night of an assault last June—the attack that led to Perez’s arrest—were twice discounted by a supervisor. Another supervisor recorded the nurse’s account, but his notes were not given to a prosecutor until five days before Perez’s trial.
It was the night of June 9 that nurse Louise Oyler was disturbed to find Perez massaging the back and hip area of a spinal surgery patient, Eleanor Torres, 54. Oyler said she had never seen a patient-care technician massaging a patient before.
Oyler told Jorinda Hall, a registered nurse who was in charge that night.
Hall wasn’t alarmed, according to her pretrial interview. She said patient-care technicians sometimes do massages. She did not report the allegation to her supervisor.
The prosecutor, in questioning Hall, said she’d been told massages by male staff on female patients are “a big no-no.”
“Well, like I said, that was my second time ever being in charge there. I didn’t know their procedures,” Hall said.
Later, nurse Oyler found Perez standing next to Torres and pressing his body against her arm as she used the bedside commode. He hadn’t left to give Torres privacy, as he was supposed to, Oyler said. Then she noticed he had an erection.
Oyler said she pointed to the door to get Perez to leave. Again, she told Hall of her alarm.
“It did cause me some concern, but honestly, I didn’t believe it because of the previous things that Louise had said to me about Daniel,” Hall told prosecutor Eazer during a pretrial interview. “She didn’t like him. She couldn’t stand him.”
“I understand that, ma’am,” Eazer said. “I understand everybody on the unit was talking about Louise and how prejudiced she was and nobody believed her but in the end it looks like everybody should have.”
Torres knew nothing of what nurse Oyler had observed when she first told her daughters, and then hospital staff members, that Perez had assaulted her.
“What they did to me was absolutely horrendous. They had an eyewitness, and they ignored her,” Torres said.