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Judge: No probable cause to arrest oncologist on sex abuse charges

Surgical oncologist Dwight De Risi with patients after

Surgical oncologist Dwight De Risi with patients after his court appearance in Hempstead on Friday. Credit: Newsday/Bridget Murphy

A judge has found police didn't have probable cause to arrest a Great Neck surgical oncologist on sex abuse and forcible touching charges last summer after a patient made an accusation against him.

Police charged Dr. Dwight De Risi, 71, of Locust Valley, with the misdemeanor offenses in June.

But Nassau District Court Judge Valerie Alexander criticized the investigation in a ruling this week, comparing it to a “fishing expedition.”

On Friday, De Risi appeared before the judge in Hempstead before declining to comment after the proceeding.

Some of the few dozen patients who were there to support De Risi, including breast cancer survivors, hugged him after his court conference and spoke up in his defense.

“I believe in the truth and justice and what’s right. And Dr. De Risi is an innocent man … He is the most compassionate, understanding doctor in his field. And it is totally unfair and unwarranted what is happening to him right now,” said patient Donna Nolan, 57, of Sayville.

Patient Janet D’Agostino, 66, said De Risi performed three surgeries on her in the last 27 years and was “a man of honor.”

“Seeing what happened here in the last eight months made me sick — sick that anybody could ever say a terrible word against him,” the Melville woman added.

Defense attorney John Carman said Friday on the surgeon's behalf that the judge's written decision "was significant because it explains why the police had no legal cause to arrest Dr. De Risi."

He said the defense would soon file a motion asking the judge, "on that basis," to dismiss the charges.

"Our position from day one was this was not a case that warranted prosecution and hopefully our motion to dismiss will be granted," said attorney Joseph Conway, who also represents the surgeon.

But Nassau District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Miriam Sholder said Friday that prosecutors would file a motion seeking to reargue the probable cause issue.

Nassau police spokesman Det. Lt. Richard LeBrun said Friday that his agency "will be working cohesively with the district attorney in the future on this case." 

Court records show police arrested De Risi after a female patient reported that the physician kissed her on the mouth, rubbed her inner leg and stomach and told her “you did good” after a painful medical procedure.

The records also indicate the patient told police that a nurse was present at the time of the encounter at De Risi’s medical office.

The surgeon reportedly told a detective later that he is Italian, hugs and kisses all his patients and that no one else had complained about it in 37 years, according to court records.

The judge found police didn’t try to find out the identity of the nurse who allegedly was present during the encounter, before arresting the surgeon solely on the word of the patient.

“No other investigatory work was done,” Alexander wrote in her decision.

The judge added that police arrested the surgeon “in the dead of night” at his home, “denying him the opportunity to contact an attorney or to be apprised of the charges against him.”

The judge’s ruling also suppressed statements De Risi made to police after a detective confronted him with the patient’s accusations.

De Risi, who graduated from Georgetown University School of Medicine, is a surgeon in private practice and one of the founders of a nonprofit support network for breast cancer patients.

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