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Former faculty member is charged with attempted murder of medical school dean

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i4755 (Published 01 September 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i4755
  1. Michael McCarthy
  1. Seattle

A fired faculty member of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City, has been charged with attempted second degree murder for allegedly shooting the school’s dean outside a delicatessen in the community of Chappaqua in New Castle, New York, about 40 miles (64 km) north of New York City.

Police said that the suspect, Hengjun Chao, 49, used a shotgun loaded with buckshot to shoot Dennis S Charney, 65, dean of the Icahn School of Medicine, as Charney walked on the sidewalk after leaving the delicatessen. The shooting took place Monday 29 August.

Dennis Charney’s injuries from the shooting are not thought to be life threatening

Mount Sinai Health System

Police said that Chao was arrested within minutes of the shooting in a car park across the street from the delicatessen. A loaded Mossberg 500 shotgun was found in the boot of Chao’s vehicle, police said. The New Castle police chief, Charles Ferry, said that Charney seemed to have been targeted by Chao because of “a past employment issue.”

Charney was taken to Westchester Medical Center. His injuries were said to be non-life threatening. Charney, who has been dean of the Icahn School of Medicine since 2004, is an expert in neurobiology and the treatment of mood and anxiety disorders.

A second man, a 56 year old Chappaqua resident, was wounded by buckshot that passed through the front window of the delicatessen. Police said that he was not a target in the attack. The man was treated and released.

Chao, a graduate of Peking Union Medical College, had been an assistant professor and researcher in the Mount Sinai department of medicine’s division of hematology and medical oncology, where he conducted research into gene therapy for hemophilia and muscular dystrophy. However, he was fired in 2010 after a research integrity committee investigation concluded that Chao had sought to alter data from experiments conducted in his laboratory.

In a summary of its investigation the committee wrote that Chao had “promoted a laboratory culture of misconduct and authoritarianism by rewarding results consistent with his theories and berating his staff if the results were inconsistent with this expectation.”

After his termination Chao sued, charging that he had been discriminated against because of his race and nationality, but his lawsuit was dismissed and his appeals denied. Chao has been remanded to Westchester County Jail without bail. His next court appearance is scheduled for 7 September.

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