USF Health officials are reviewing the actions of a University doctor who withheld evidence from authorities in a murder investigation, said USF Health spokeswoman Anne DeLotto Baier.
Dr. David Ciesla, associate professor of surgery and director of the trauma/critical care division for the USF medical school, kept a bullet he discovered while performing surgery April 21 on murder suspect Thomas Ford McCoy, Jr.
Ciesla, who is still a USF employee, was sentenced to two years’ probation and 100 community service hours Aug. 17.
“We’re undergoing an internal review based on the probation hearing findings,” Baier said. “Until our own internal review is done, we will have no further comment.”
Baier could not give a time frame of how long the review would last. Ciesla remains a full-time employee at the University, she said.
Tampa General Hospital President Ronald Hytoff said in a June 17 letter to the state attorney’s office that Ciesla “has become an invaluable asset to the University of South Florida.”
Dr. Sergio Alvarez, a second-year plastic surgery resident at USF, assisted Ciesla while he performed surgery on McCoy, who was shot by a deputy U.S. marshal.
Alvarez said in an interview with Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) agents that Ciesla saw the bullet near the liver during the operation and said, “There it is.”
After Alvarez spotted the bullet and agreed, Ciesla said, “No, it’s not.”
Alvarez said Ciesla took his eyes off the patient, looked at him, and said, “You didn’t see a bullet.”
Alvarez told the FDLE agents he did not continue the conversation, but had his eyes on Ciesla during the entire surgery because he was “a little taken by the whole incident.”
As Ciesla was preparing to leave the operating table, Ciesla said, “Oh, I almost forgot. This is what we do with bullets.”
Ciesla reached his hand into the patient’s abdomen and withdrew the bullet, Alvarez said to the FDLE.
“I saw him push the (bullet) into the palm of his right hand,” Alvarez said. “I saw him place what he had in his right hand into his right pocket.”
After the surgery, Ciesla told agents who had been assigned to collect evidence in the operating room that he did not remove a bullet from McCoy during surgery, according to FDLE reports.
“There were two (agents) in the operating room and one outside the door,” said Susan Shaffi, a third-year surgery resident at the time who also assisted Ciesla the day of the incident.
Shaffi said to FDLE agents that she heard Ciesla tell agents after the surgery, “They’re in the liver. We don’t go after bullets in the liver.”
Alvarez reported the incident to the chairman of his department.
Later, according to a FDLE report, Ciesla apologized for his actions and said he “did not understand the criminal consequences of his actions.”
July 15, Ciesla was convicted of one count of providing false information to law enforcement during an investigation and one count of obstructing or opposing an officer without violence.
Both are first-degree misdemeanors. Ciesla pleaded no contest to the charges.
Ciesla and Alvarez were unavailable for comment.