Psychologist Accused of Raping Female Military Veterans Seeking Treatment for Previous Sex Assaults

Dr. Heath Sommer was a practicing physician at Travis Air Force Base in California from 2014 to 2016

Photo: Air Force

A clinical psychologist is facing charges after allegedly raping female veterans who had come to him as survivors of sexual assault seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder at a California military base, PEOPLE confirms.

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations launched its review of Dr. Heath J. Sommer in 2016 after some of his patients raised concerns that led them to request another physician, a spokesperson for the 60th Air Mobility Wing at Travis Air Force Base said in a statement.

On Monday, the 41-year-old doctor — who worked as an independent contractor at the base’s David Grant USAF Medical Center starting in 2014 — was ordered by a judge to stand trial on three felony sexual assault charges, The Daily Republic reports.

Sommer argued in court through his attorney, Thomas Maas, that the sexual contact with his patients was consensual as part of the doctor’s therapy and that no crime was committed, according to Associated Press.

Sommer has pleaded not guilty. Maas declined PEOPLE’s request for comment.

Authorities arrested Sommer earlier this month. He is charged with one count of sexual battery and three counts of sexual assault, including two rapes, according to records at the Solano County Jail, where he is being held in lieu of $750,000 bail.

Prosecutors allege that Sommer’s requests for patients to have sex with him were part of his “exposure therapy” — which he said was intended to have the women re-live their traumatic experiences and create new ones that were “positive and loving” — but instead left them “even more traumatized,” according to AP.

In court on Monday, an investigator testified that one of Sommer’s suspected victims — an officer who was seeking treatment in 2014 after being attacked and raped while deployed in Afghanistan in 2002 — recalled that he had moved their sessions to his home, according to the Daily Republic.

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The officer was asked to share details of her assault in Afghanistan to the point where Sommer allegedly had her put dirt from his yard into her mouth along with leftovers from his refrigerator, the investigator testified, according to the paper.

The goal was to mimic the dirty taste of poorly cooked goat meat that the officer was served by Afghans prior to her attack, the investigator said.

With his wife in the kitchen, Sommer then allegedly took the officer into his bedroom, covered her mouth with his hand, and had sex with her, the investigator testified.

The patient told the investigator that she and Sommer had sex nine more times over the next two months, according to court testimony. It allegedly culminated with a night she spent sleeping with Sommer and his wife, after which the officer told Sommer to stop when the officer awoke and the doctor tried to have sex with her again.

Another woman alleged that in 2015, Sommer exposed himself to her in his office and directed her to perform oral sex; in a subsequent session he kissed and groped her breasts, the investigator testified.

Sommer treated more than 100 people before he was suspended on July 12, 2016, base spokesman Sgt. Amber Carter said, according to the AP. He was hired in 2014 through a contracting company that also vetted the doctor, Air Force officials said.

“Nothing popped up during the background check,” said another base spokesman, Tonya Racasner, the AP reports.

The allegations have led to a review of procedures and treatments at the medical center, and all of Sommer’s patients have been offered assistance, she said.

“The Air Force, as well as Travis Air Force Base has zero tolerance policy for sexual assault,” Racasner shared in a statement to PEOPLE.

Sommer is scheduled to be arraigned on May 25.

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