Dental Assistant Acquitted of Sexual Assault Charges After Jury Finds Allegations Based on Drug-Induced Hallucinations

LAND O’LAKES, Fla. (AP) — After a Pasco County jury found a 41-year-old dental assistant not guilty of sexual assault charges, the dental community is shedding light on the potential side effects of anesthetic drugs. Edwin Alvis, who worked at the Tampa Bay Institute of Oral Surgery and Dental Implants, was accused of sexual assault by an 18-year-old patient during a wisdom tooth removal procedure in 2019. However, his attorneys argued that the accusation was based on false memories and hallucinations caused by the drugs administered during the procedure.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Connecticut highlighted the rare but serious occurrence of hallucinations related to sexual assault or sexual fantasy as a result of anesthetic drugs used in conscious sedation. The study emphasized that although the environment and monitoring in some cases made the occurrence of sexual assault unlikely, the patients and accused clinicians still experienced significant distress.

During the trial, Aiya Almogaber, a clinical pharmacologist, testified about the three categories of side effects caused by the drugs: central nervous system depression, cognitive dysfunction, and amnesia. Almogaber explained that while some side effects are intentionally induced during sedation, others, such as hallucinations or abnormal dreaming, are less common and difficult to predict due to patient variability.

The patient’s friend and mother both claimed in depositions that Alvis prevented the mother from accompanying her daughter and asked a female employee to leave the room. Alvis’ defense attorney, Bjorn Brunvand, argued that there was always another person present in the room, except when they briefly stepped out to retrieve something. Brunvand further highlighted the layout of the office, which lacked a door and had a constant stream of people entering and exiting, making the allegations implausible.

Police had initially reported that DNA samples taken from the 18-year-old matched Alvis. However, Brunvand offered an alternative explanation, suggesting that Alvis may have inadvertently transferred DNA by placing leads on the patient’s body. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement also confirmed that DNA can be transferred through touch or sweat, and some of Alvis’ DNA could have been unintentionally passed by the patient during the 14-hour period before she reported the incident.

Brunvand expressed relief and faith in the jury’s verdict, stating, “I never had any doubt about my client’s innocence.” Alvis, who had lived with the accusation hanging over his head for four years, now looks forward to rebuilding his life and caring for his family.