- Dr. Hasan Gokal was fired in January for giving away 10 COVID-19 vaccine doses that were due to expire.
- The Harris County District Attorney charged Gokal with theft but a grand jury acquitted him in June.
- Gokal is now suing Harris County for more than $1 million for discrimination.
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A Houston doctor who was accused of stealing COVID-19 vaccine doses and later acquitted by a grand jury is now suing Harris County in Texas for discrimination for more than $1 million.
Last December, Dr. Hasan Gokal was working with Harris County Public Health at their first vaccination site. At the end of a shift, Gokal tried to find eligible people for leftover doses of the Moderna vaccine that would have expired and went door-to-door to administer shots.
Gokal was accused of violating protocols and fired. District Attorney Kim Ogg also filed theft charges against him.
Harris County Public Health also reached out to the Texas Medical Board to initiate an investigation for unethical behavior which was dismissed in March. Gokal was unable to work until that investigation was complete.
In June, a grand jury acquitted Gokal of the charges.
Gokal told Insider it was soon after the charges were dropped that he began thinking about suing the county, but it wasn’t until about a month ago that he seriously discussed it with a lawyer.
He said while he was relieved the case against him has been dropped, the past nine months weighed heavily on him and his family and hopes the suit will bring him justice.
“The first few months of this was rough, not being able to do a job. Not sure if my career is over. What’s going to happen with the criminal charges and so on and so forth. Anybody in that level of stress and degree of uncertainty in life is going to be impacted by that uncertainty,” Gokal said. “It was felt throughout my family. The kids are young and you can see the stress on them. My wife, certainly her condition got worse through all the stress.”
Gokal added that he’s also hoping to ensure this doesn’t happen again: “You’re talking about a physician who does what a physician does, and you suddenly turn it into a criminal issue. That shouldn’t happen to anybody else. Any way you cut it, it’s just wrong,” he told Insider.
Additionally, Gokal said he wants to bring attention to the issue that Harris County Public Health, like other public health agencies across the country, is “not using physicians anymore and they’re making decisions on their own without it.” He said these agencies are making decisions about public health without necessary experts like doctors.
“This has changed in the last year, and it’s a very worrisome and dangerous trend,” Gokal said.
In a press release emailed to Insider, Gokal and his attorney said the public health department told him “he picked the wrong people to help – too many of them had ‘Indian’ names, too many of them were Asian.”
“It’s very clear that if he had vaccinated people named Anderson, Smith, and Jones he would have been called a hero and not have been fired, charged, vilified, and brought before a grand jury that thankfully refused to indict him,” Gokal’s attorney, Joe Ahmad, said.
The Harris County District Attorney did not respond to Insider’s request for comment at the time of publication but previously told CBS News “The District Attorney’s Office prosecutes state crimes that occur in Harris County. In pursuing prosecution against all accused, our intent is to seek and obtain justice in every case. We follow a strict protocol of evidence-based prosecution. The criminal charges of Theft by a Public Servant against this Defendant were based upon evidence obtained from witnesses and statements of the accused, both before and after his employment was terminated by the Harris County Health Dept. While grand jury witnesses are also prohibited in Texas from revealing what occurred in the grand jury, they are free to tell you about what they witnessed in an incident.”
Ahmad told Insider it’s not clear how much of a financial loss the charges and case against Gokal will cost him, but they assume the impact will extend for years.
“The full nature of the damages isn’t known yet because frankly, the economic damages are still being suffered. Dr. Gokal is working, he’s taking some shifts in the ER room. It’s not the ideal job, but he’s doing it,” Ahmad told Insider.
Gokal told Insider the case caused him a lot of stress and he wasn’t able to dedicate his attention to patients full time.
Additionally, Ahmad told Insider the publicity from the case has negatively impacted Gokal’s reputation.
“We believe he’s going to be suffering a year from now, two years from now, if for no other reason than the nature of the publicity against him – how he was vilified, nationwide, worldwide,” Ahmad said. “And so, do we believe that the damages could exceed $1 million? Absolutely. We’ll know more as time goes by.”
Gokal said he’s frustrated because he did what he was supposed to do.
“I don’t think I was treated fairly, so I’m hoping to get a sense of fairness out of this, that’s number one,” he said.