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Trial begins for nursing assistant accused of sexual assault

Woman allegedly assaulted during hospital stay

INDIO, Calif. - Trial proceedings began Monday for a former nurse's aide who allegedly sexually assaulted a woman who was a patient at the Rancho Mirage hospital where he worked.

Jury selection was expected to begin as soon as this afternoon for Gil Ernesto Lopez, 50, of Cathedral City, who is charged with forcible sexual penetration, sexual penetration with a foreign object, and sexual battery for the purpose of sexual arousal.

Read: Woman suing hospital after alleged sexual assault by nursing assistant 

Lopez is accused of assaulting the woman during an overnight stay at Eisenhower Medical Center in August 2015. The victim was on her third consecutive night of inpatient care at the hospital for complications following gall bladder surgery.

According to a declaration in support of an arrest warrant prepared by sheriff's Investigator Denise Porras, the woman was asleep when Lopez began fluffing her pillows, placing one beneath the victim's legs.

As he was adjusting the pillows, Lopez moved his hand onto the victim's leg and then sexually assaulted her while the victim pleaded with him to stop, Porras wrote. Prescribed pain medication weakened the victim's ability to resist the assault, according to the deputy's declaration.

He allegedly became "spooked'' midway through the alleged assault and retreated to a bathroom before returning and allegedly assaulting her again.

Lopez was brought in for questioning the following month and denied any sexual contact with the victim, according to the investigator.

However, in a second interview, he said he noticed the woman's oxygen monitor was not working and put his hand in hers to try and warm her hand. He said she then moved his hand toward her midsection in a way that Lopez misconstrued as a consensual act.

Lopez said he did not bring up the incident during his first interview because he was too embarrassed to tell the truth, according to Porras.

He was arrested in January 2016 and pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The case has also produced a lawsuit against the hospital and Lopez, filed by the victim. The suit, filed last year, alleges that the hospital was negligent in hiring Lopez and retaining him after the alleged assault.

The lawsuit states that Eisenhower should have been aware that Lopez was "unfit'' to be an employee at the hospital, "particularly placed alone with female patients.''

The suit also makes mention of Lopez's admission to sexual contact with the victim at his October interview with Investigator Porras and the victim's shock at learning Lopez was still working at the hospital during the sheriff's investigation.

The victim had to return to the hospital in November for follow-up treatment and was ``horrified'' to discover that Lopez was assigned to the same floor where she was staying. According to the lawsuit, she immediately checked out of the hospital against the advice of hospital officials, who said Lopez resigned from the hospital last year.

Lopez has no prior felony convictions in Riverside County, according to court records.

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