Two former Boulder Community Hospital employees testified in court Tuesday that Niles Utlaut, a doctor, put his arms around their heads and grabbed them last summer at the hospital's Balsam Avenue campus.
Utlaut's two-day trial on third-degree assault charges began Tuesday with opening statements from attorneys.
"This case is about Lynn Donnelly and Diane Coles being subjected to improper, aggressive, physical contact by Dr. Utlaut," Boulder County prosecutor Madoche Jean told the six-person jury.
Donnelly testified at the trial that she and Coles were locking up the medical records department June 3 when Utlaut came up behind them and put them each in a "choke-hold."
"You could feel his height and his strength," Donnelly said. "I could feel that I couldn't get away. I was trying to wiggle and struggle to get away. As I struggled, he made his grip on my neck get tighter."
Coles said she remembered Utlaut putting his arm around her head and shaking papers in front of her face.
"I was not being choked, but he had me; I couldn't move my head," Coles said.
Both of the women said they did not know who Utlaut was at the time.
Donnelly testified that Utlaut had three pink slips in his hand and said, "Oh, no, no, no, you're not going anywhere; you're going to fix this paperwork." They told Utlaut they could not take care of the pink slips — notices given to doctors when they fail to complete the required forms for patient care — and directed them to their supervisor.
At that time, the women said Utlaut let them go, and they took him to see their supervisor, though they said he still appeared angry and was yelling.
Donnelly said she later told the supervisor about the incident and also called police that night and made a formal report the next day.
But Utlaut's attorney, Eric Klein, said Utlaut never put anyone in a choke-hold, and any contact was accidental as a result of the three people being in a small space and "jumbled up together."
"That is where an innocent interaction turned into a nightmare for Mr. Utlaut," Klein told the jury. "He's not a madman, he's not an animal, he's not psychotic. ... He did not sneak up behind two strangers and put them in choke-holds."
Klein showed the jury a picture of the doorway where the alleged incident took place and noted the space was only a few feet across. Klein also pointed out the women never cried out for help or tried to fight back.
But Donnelly, in her testimony, said she had no doubt she was put in a choke-hold.
"You know when you're being choked," Donnelly said. "It hurts, and there was no doubt about it. I was being choked."
Donnelly said she had neck problems from a previous auto accident, and that the incident at Boulder Community caused pain in her neck for which she went on workers compensation and went to rehab.
Coles said the hold was "uncomfortable" and "stunned" her.
"When you go to your place of work, you think you're safe," she said.
The trial is expected to close today.
Third-degree assault is a Class 1 misdemeanor.