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Sexual assault accusations at Orange County hospital lead to lawsuit against nurse

Three women walk together
Zoe Cooksey, left, walks with her mother, Amber Leight, center, and grandmother, Annette Oltmans, outside Providence Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo on Thursday. Cooksey has filed a lawsuit against the hospital’s parent company and former nurse Paul Alden Miller, alleging he sexually assaulted her.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

A Costa Mesa resident is taking legal action against an Orange County hospital for weak protocols she says allowed a registered nurse to sexually assault her in the emergency room.

Attorney Shawn Steel filed the lawsuit Thursday in Orange County Superior Court on behalf of Zoe Leigh Cooksey. The suit names Providence Health and Paul Alden Miller, a registered nurse formerly employed at Providence Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo.

Joined by her mother and grandmother on a sidewalk near the hospital, Cooksey, 22, spoke during a news conference about “one of the worst experiences of my life.”

A woman wearing a mask lies in a hospital bed
Zoe Leigh Cooksey at Providence Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo moments after she says she was sexually assaulted by a nurse.
(Courtesy of Shawn Steel Law Firm)

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“I’m not sure if I’ll ever be the same again, but I am coming forward today to give a voice to the victims of sexual assault and to let others know that it’s OK to stand up and share your story,” she said.

Cooksey said she checked into Mission Hospital’s emergency room on March 31 because of lingering pain from an earlier car crash. The hospital sent her for bloodwork, and Miller, 56, took her to a “small, secluded room,” according to the lawsuit.

As she changed into a gown, the suit says that Miller asked Cooksey four times whether he could help her, and she declined every time. When he saw she was still wearing her underwear, he removed the garment and told her he needed to insert a catheter, court records show. Cooksey didn’t understand why this was necessary but gave in to Miller’s authority.

According to court documents, Cooksey voiced her discomfort as Miller struggled to insert the catheter for several minutes. Miller then rubbed her vagina in a sexual manner and asked whether it felt good, the lawsuit states. Cooksey repeatedly told him to stop and again asked why his actions were necessary.

Steel said that at one point, Cooksey managed to call her mother and asked her to come to the hospital because she was uncomfortable.

Shortly before her mother arrived, Miller — who had overheard the phone call — injected two syringes of morphine into Cooksey’s intravenous line, according to the lawsuit. The medication prevented her from properly explaining to her mother what had happened and about the catheter left in the sink, Steel said. Cooksey also couldn’t remember when a doctor finally saw her in the exam room.

Cooksey was later escorted to another department by a female nurse for a CT scan. During her absence, the suit states that Miller asked Cooksey’s mother whether she wanted to lie down in a room next to her daughter and said he could “give her something to relax.” She declined.

The suit alleges that Miller administered another shot of morphine before Cooksey was discharged. By then, she was feeling the effects of the drug and couldn’t hold a pen or sign her name to leave the hospital, so her mother signed for her.

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In the months after Cooksey said she was violated, two other women — a 68-year-old and a 56-year-old who have not been identified — reported they also were sexually assaulted by Miller at Providence hospital, authorities said.

The Orange County Sheriff Department’s Special Victims Detail arrested Miller on June 30 on suspicion of sexual abuse and battery. He was released from jail later that night after being held on $100,000 bail, jail records show.

He has been charged with three counts of sexual battery involving an unconscious person, all felonies, according to Orange County Superior Court documents. He also has been charged with three misdemeanor counts of touching an intimate part of another person and one misdemeanor count of inflicting injury on an elder adult.

Representatives for the Orange County district attorney’s office were not immediately available for comment Thursday, but court documents show Miller is scheduled for arraignment Sept. 28.

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Providence Mission Hospital said in a statement that it has “zero tolerance for behavior that does not align with our mission and values.”

Miller was placed on leave immediately after hospital officials received the first patient complaint and launched their own investigation, the hospital said. Authorities were notified and he has not worked at the facility since. He began working at Providence Mission Hospital in January, according to sheriff’s officials. He previously worked at El Centro Regional Medical Center and Sharp Hospital in Chula Vista.

“While the sequence of events reported by O.C. Sheriff may reflect when the incidents occurred, it doesn’t accurately reflect when the incidents were reported to the hospital and therefore when the caregiver was placed on leave,” the hospital‘s statement said.

Miller, a San Clemente resident, has been a registered nurse for about six years, according to the California Board of Registered Nursing. His license listed no disciplinary actions as of Thursday. He could not immediately be reached for comment.

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Investigators think there may be more victims and are asking for anyone with additional information to call the Sheriff’s Department at (714) 647-7419 or submit an anonymous tip at (855) 847-6227.

Standing in the shadow of the Mission Viejo hospital on Thursday, Cooksey said she has dealt with depression, stress and anxiety since she was assaulted. She is urging others to stand with her and hold Miller and the hospital accountable.

“Dealing with the deep fear I now harbor for medical professionals and physical closeness, even for those I love, is something no one should have to go through alone,” she said.


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