To proponents of affirmative action, Patrick Chavis was viewed six years ago as a hero. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) called the personable black doctor the perfect example of how the controversial college admissions program could help minorities and disadvantaged communities.
To opponents of the program, Chavis was seen four years ago as one of its failures. The Medical Board of California revoked his license, calling him grossly negligent in his care of seven liposuction patients, one of whom bled to death after he abandoned her bedside.
To three street thugs, Chavis apparently looked three weeks ago like a random target of opportunity. The 50-year-old Inglewood resident was shot to death by the would-be carjackers as he walked back to his Mercedes-Benz after buying an ice cream cone.
The attackers fled without taking the car, leaving Chavis sprawled on the pavement outside a Foster's Freeze in Hawthorne.
Details of the crime are still sketchy and no suspects have been identified. But a sheriff's homicide detective said that the crime apparently had nothing to do with Chavis' past.
"So far, it looks like the wrong guy with the wrong kind of car in the wrong place," Det. Donna Cheek told a reporter from the Daily Breeze.
Chavis attracted attention in 1973, shortly after he and four other African American applicants were admitted to the UC Davis Medical School under a special minority admissions programs.
The school rejected a white applicant, Allan Bakke, who filed a lawsuit.
Five years later, ruling in Bakke's suit, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the school's affirmative action program. The court said that, while an applicant's race could be used in determining admissions, it could not be the only factor in that decision.
After graduating from medical school and earning his license to practice medicine, Chavis returned to the disadvantaged area where he had been raised, making his home in Compton and practicing as an obstetrician-gynecologist in Lynwood.
Bakke, who eventually was admitted to and graduated from the medical school at Davis, became an anesthesiologist in the relatively upscale town of Rochester, Minn.
In a statement to a Senate committee in April 1996, Kennedy said that beneficiaries of affirmative action "are likely, later in life, to benefit their professions and the communities in which they live," citing Chavis as a perfect example.
"He is the supposedly less qualified African American student who allegedly displaced Allan Bakke at UC Davis and triggered the landmark case," Kennedy said. "Today, Dr. Chavis is a successful ob-gyn in central Los Angeles, making a difference in the lives of scores of poor families."
Chavis continued to work in the minority community, and most of his patients continued to be from low-income families. But the Medical Board of California said that, about the time Kennedy was delivering his statement, Chavis began spending less time delivering babies and more time on cosmetic surgery.
After investigating Chavis for more than a year, the board concluded that his license should be revoked to protect the public.
The board said Chavis had left 43-year-old Tammaria Cotton in his clinic after surgery, groggy and leaking a red liquid from her incisions, to check on another liposuction patient who was recovering in Chavis' home.
When Cotton went into cardiac arrest and stopped breathing, the nurse at the clinic was unable to revive her.
Some of Chavis' other liposuction patients suffered massive blood loss and severe infections, the board said.
As the criticism mounted, Chavis insisted that he was the victim of a racist backlash against outspoken minorities.
"It's a lynching," he told The Times.
He said he could have lived in Palos Verdes and practiced in an upscale community, but he chose instead to live and work in the minority area from which he sprang.
"I don't mean to boast, but I'm somewhat of a hero in the community," he said.