VICTORIA, Texas (CN) – Bent on finding evidence a doctor was running pill mills, Texas Medical Board investigators and police raided his clinic without a warrant and seized 14,500 documents, including confidential patient records, the exonerated doctor claims in court.
Pill mills are clinics operated illegally by doctors who write prescriptions without examining patients and accept only cash payments. The painkillers Oxycodone and Vicodin, which can be resold on the street for a high markup, are commonly dispensed by such clinics.
Texas prosecutors could not prove Courtney Morgan, a 46-year-old black man born in Jamaica, ran two pill mills in Victoria, despite the efforts of the Texas Medical Board to nail him.
Morgan sued the Texas Medical Board’s interim executive director Scott Freshour on constitutional claims on Jan. 20 in Federal Court.
He also sued Texas Medical Board investigator Mary Chapman and Texas Department of Safety State Trooper John Kopacz. He accuses Kopacz of two counts of malicious prosecution.
Morgan got his medical degree from Howard University, a historically black college in Washington, D.C., and got his Texas medical license in November 2007, state records show.
Morgan says in the lawsuit that Kopacz, Chapman and Drug Enforcement Administration agents went to his two health clinics in Victoria on the morning of July 18, 2013, scared away his patients, seized his staff’s cellphones and threatened to arrest his secretary, who began sobbing and hyperventilating, before she signed a false witness statement that was partially dictated to her by lead medical board investigator Chapman.
Morgan says Chapman held him in an exam room for more than 40 minutes while her team seized documents from his clinic and repeatedly told him: “We’re the medical board, we can do whatever we want.”
The day before the raids, Chapman called Kopacz and enlisted him to join her in serving Morgan’s clinics with “administrative instanter subpoenas,” which the Texas Medical Board can use to compel the immediate production of records, according to the complaint.
Morgan’s Drive Thru Doc clinic was the subject of an investigate report by the Victoria Advocate newspaper a few weeks before the raid that explored whether Morgan could legally prescribe medication to the clinic’s patients without seeing them in person.
The June 2013 news story included a video of an Advocate reporter picking up a sinus medicine prescription from the clinic, after the reporter spoke with Morgan solely over the phone.
Victoria County District Attorney Stephen Tyler told the Advocate the video showed a “peculiar way to prescribe medicine,” though Morgan reportedly denied he prescribed narcotics at Drive Thru Doc.
The bad press led Chapman to serve the subpoenas on Drive Thru Doc and Morgan’s other clinic in Victoria, Hop Medical Services, both of them plaintiffs in Morgan’s lawsuit.
Morgan says that three medical board investigators, at least two DEA agents and Kopacz, seven agents in all, showed up at Drive Thru Doc at 9 a.m., and Chapman served his secretary with subpoenas.
“The assistant was threatened with imprisonment and forced to comply with the TMB’s subpoena. Chapman forced the assistant to provide the medical records listed in the subpoenas, which included all patient sign-in sheets, billing records, consent forms, intake forms and prescription records for the entire year, as well as all March 2013 medical records, and complete medical files for several patients,” the complaint states.
“Chapman also seized medical records that were not listed in the subpoenas.”
Chapman even photographed locked drawers and file cabinets in the clinic, according to the complaint.
“The assistant was in extreme fear, as exhibited by her constant sobbing and eventual hyperventilation. The assistant was pressured and manipulated into writing an inaccurate witness statement, as portions were dictated to her by Chapman,” the lawsuit states. Chapman and the raid team then went to Morgan’s other Victoria clinic, Hop Medical Services, and scared patients in the waiting room. “The patients … departed upon observing multiple armed law enforcement officers and TMB agents enter the office,” the lawsuit states.
Morgan says Chapman served him with two subpoenas at the Hop clinic and told him she was not leaving until she got all the documents listed on them. He says Chapman and Kopacz forced him into an exam room where Chapman held him for more than 40 minutes, while her cohorts ransacked his clinic.
Chapman gave the seized documents to Kopacz, who used the records to drum up criminal charges against Morgan, according to the lawsuit.
“Kopacz received over 14,500 documents from the TMB, including prescription histories and patient names. The TMB’s compiled report was the sole evidence relied upon in Kopacz’s decision to cause the criminal prosecution of Morgan through the Victoria County District Attorney’s Office,” the complaint states.
A grand jury indicted Morgan in August 2014 on a felony charge of running an unlicensed pain management clinic and he was arrested. But the case fizzled because Victoria County District Judge Eli E. Garza granted Morgan’s motion to suppress the seized medical and office records, according to Judge Garza’s Findings of Fact.
Garza found Chapman had abused the medical board’s subpoena power by getting law enforcement involved in the warrantless raids.
“The Court finds that the TMB acted with bad faith in partnering up with law enforcement to conduct the search of the defendant’s business. The Court finds that the TMB’s interest in serving the subpoenas upon the defendant was not a legitimate pursuit of its administrative authority but an exercise to circumvent both the Texas and U.S. Constitutions’ requirement for a warrant,” Garza wrote in his Oct. 15, 2015 order granting the motion to suppress.
Garza noted in the order that Chapman had no evidence that Morgan was running pill mills, and had based her investigation on the Victoria Advocate’s reports.
“For example, there were no lines of people at the location; there were no pre-written prescription pads, and there was no evidence that it was primarily a cash business,” the order states.
Victoria County District Attorney Stephen Tyler appealed Garza’s suppression order to the Texas 13th Court of Appeals, but dismissed the appeal in January 2016.
Tyler did not respond Tuesday to a phone message asking why he dropped the appeal.
Morgan, who no longer operates the clinics, seeks more than $10,000 in compensatory damages.
He is represented by Leslie Werner in Victoria. Werner declined to say if Morgan is practicing elsewhere.
A Texas Medical Board spokesman declined comment Tuesday and said the agency hadn’t been served with the lawsuit.
Kopacz’s employer, the Texas Department of Public Safety, said Tuesday it was looking into the lawsuit’s allegations.