HOUSTON (CBSNEWS.COM) — Dr. Hasan Gokal was fired from his job and charged with a crime, after giving out COVID vaccine doses that were on the brink of expiration. The doctor made the move during the last months of 2020, when vaccine doses were very scarce and doctor’s appointments were hard to get.
Gokal plans to sue Harris County — the government that fired him — on claims that he was discriminated against on the base of race and national origin.READ MORE: FDA Committee Votes In Favor Of COVID-19 Vaccine For 5 To 11-Year-Olds
It was on the local news where Dr. Gokal said he first learned that the Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg had charged him with theft by a public servant. He said he wasn’t contacted by nay investigators or the DAs office before the charge was made.
Everything started on December 29, 2020, as vaccines were just rolling out nationally, as Harris County was having its first public vaccination event and Dr. Gokal was the supervisor. At the end of the night he said there was one open vial — with 10 doses inside — and workers had to get those injections in arms within 6 hours or they were going to expire.
“I made a quick call to the immediate supervisor and said ‘Hey, I’ve got a few extra doses I’m gonna find people to try and give them to’. And the answer was ‘okay,'” he said in an interview with David Begnaud on CBS Mornings.
Gokal said he got to work. “I started making phone calls to people that I thought would know somebody or might have contacts who may benefit from that vaccine… specifically in the high-risk categories.”
Zehra Ahmed is one of the people contacted. She works at a doctor’s office and her mother, who lives with her, has Parkinson’s Disease. She defends Dr. Gokal. “How is it stealing?” she asked. “I mean, I don’t think it… there’s no way you could call this stealing.”
Dr. Gokal said when there was just one dose left and less than an hour before it expired he gave the vaccine to his wife, who has
pulmonary sarcoidosis — an inflammatory disease of the lungs. The next day he says he turned in all the paperwork for the 10 doses that he gave out and 8 days alter that he said he was called into human resources at work.
“We heard that you uh… that you took a vial and vaccinated your friends and family with it. Are you talking about the first day of vaccination when there were leftover vaccines and I took them and I found 10 people to give it to? Oh, you admit it. Well, we’re going to have to terminate you. You guys were going to throw these away and I found people to give them to.”
He said he was told another problem was that he didn’t give out the doses in an ‘equitable manner’. Doctor Gokal said he then questioned the HR director asking, “Are you suggesting that there were too many Indian names in the group?” And the response was “exactly.”
The investigation report from the district attorney’s office stated that the HR director did say that the patient forms that they had identified were —
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“…individuals of the same nationality as Dr. Gokal (Asian) so at that point it looked as though the forms would belong to ‘friends and family.'”
Two weeks after Dr. Gokal was fired the district attorney put out a press release claiming that Dr. Gokal abused his position to place his friends and family in line in front of people and that he disregarded county protocols.
But 5 days later Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Smith told Dr. Gokal’s lawyer in an email that there were not any written protocols at that time, nor was there a wait list.
Harris County Judge Franklin Bynum reviewed the district attorney’s case against Dr. Gokal and he found that there was no probable cause to charge the doctor. “Based on the information they provided me, that not only had they not proven that there was theft but that they had gone about it in a way that was pretty incomplete and pretty sloppy,” he said.
Two months later the Texas Medical Board cleared Dr. Gokal of any wrongdoing. But the DA persisted, and four months after that she took the case to a grand jury and the grand jury declined to indict.
The spokesperson for the district attorney’s office told CBS News that the grand jury “has spoken” and that they respect that.
The statement further said —
“Given grand jury secrecy and the possibility of civil litigation involving the County it would be inappropriate for the DA to participate in an interview.”
Paul Doyle is Dr. Gokal’s attorney. He said, “Well, that’s ironic because she finds herself in front of every camera whenever it’s self-serving to her. Say [I’m] sorry, okay. How about say, ‘I got it wrong.'”
Dr. Gokal said the entire ordeal has been incredibly devastating. When asked why he did what he did Gokal said, “I did what a physician would do, which is take resources meant for patients and people and give it to them instead of throwing them away. And that’s why it was so infuriating.”
CBS News wanted to hear directly from Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, so she was contacted directly. Her instructions were to send her any questions and she would return the answers. A response had not been received before this report.
A footnote — some of the other people Dr. Gokal vaccinated with those 10 doses included two bedridden women in their late 80s (whose home he went to to give them the shots) and a mother whose child is on a ventilator.
Begnaud received the following statement from Kim Ogg sent by her spokesperson:
“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.
After charges were filed, a magistrate found probable cause to believe a crime had been committed. Once the case was assigned to a Trial Court, Judge Franklin Bynum failed to find probable cause. … Because of the disagreement between the judges, the witnesses and all evidence was presented to a grand jury of ordinary citizens who did not indict. This is standard operating procedure in such situations. In this case, the grand jury declined to indict. We respect their decision. This case evidences our system is fair and works.”
This story has been updated to include a statement from Harris County’s District Attorney Kim Ogg.