D.A. to drop sexual assault charges against O.C. surgeon and girlfriend
The Orange County district attorney on Tuesday announced that he planned to drop all charges against a Newport Beach doctor and his girlfriend who were accused of drugging and sexually assaulting several women after a review of their case found insufficient evidence they committed any assaults.
When prosecutors filed charges against Grant Robicheaux, 39, and Cerissa Riley, 32, in 2018, the Orange County district attorney’s office initially painted the couple as sexual predators who used their good looks to prey on vulnerable women, drug them and take them back to their posh Newport Beach home to assault them.
Robicheaux was accused of assaulting seven women and Riley five. One woman described the couple as a “Bonnie and Clyde” team who drugged her and forced her to engage in sex acts, according to court documents. Robicheaux and Riley have both pleaded not guilty and have repeatedly denied having nonconsensual sex with their accusers.
Despite the disturbing picture presented by authorities at the time, Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer said issues with the case began to surface almost immediately.
In October 2019, Spitzer assigned two veteran deputy district attorneys to review all evidence collected after another prosecutor in his office indicated there were “serious proof problems” with the case, Spitzer said.
The review team agreed unanimously that there was “insufficient evidence to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.
Over the course of three months, prosecutors reviewed thousands of photographs and videos from computers, hundreds of hours of audio recordings, thousands of pages of documents and tens of thousands of text messages between Robicheaux and Riley spanning a four-year period.
They also combed through emails from accusers and law enforcement, and thousands of conversations between the couple and women on social media and dating sites.
“There is not a single piece of evidence or video or photo that shows an unconscious or incapacitated woman being sexually assaulted,” Spitzer said. “Not one.”
Spitzer has been involved in the case since he was running for Orange County district attorney in 2018 and has been critical of former Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas’ pretrial statements about the case.
Just after charges were filed against the couple in 2018, Rackauckas and Spitzer held dueling news conferences outside the Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach. Spitzer at the time publicly accused his political rival of being slow to file charges and using the case to bolster his profile as his reelection prospects sagged. Spitzer defeated Rackauckas decisively in the November 2018 election.
Spitzer alleged Tuesday that Rackauckas and his staff had manufactured details about the case and repeatedly misstated evidence to garner headlines and further Rackauckas’ reelection campaign.
Spitzer and defense attorneys representing the couple took issue with Rackauckas’ claim during a September 2018 news conference that investigators had “thousands of videos” in evidence that showed there could be “hundreds” or “more than a thousand” victims.
Weeks later, the district attorney’s office in a statement said it “never said all the images are incriminating, sexual in nature or show incapacitation or intoxication.”
In a deposition taken by defense attorneys last year, Rackauckas admitted that he expected to get publicity over the case and that it might be helpful to his campaign.
In a statement late Tuesday, Rackauckas defended his handling of the case and suggested the dismissal was a possible “political vendetta against me.”
“Certainly, any prosecutor should think long and hard before dismissing such a case where multiple women have independently come forward and subjected themselves to the hard process of bearing their souls to the authorities,” Rackauckas said. “I just hope they’re not being sold down the river for some twisted political motive.”
He added: “My heart goes out to the women who had the courage to come forward with their complaint, because I believed their complaints based on the evidence I had before leaving office.”
Philip Cohen, an attorney representing Robicheaux in the case, wrote in a January 2019 court filing that prosecutors did not have any videos depicting victims of sexual assault. He alleged in the filing that Rackaukas’ statements “set off a frenzy that completely destroyed the integrity of this case and the defendants’ ability to obtain a fair trial.”
Spitzer said his office’s review of the case backed that claim.
“The reason this is so significant is because of what it led to,” Spitzer said. “It led to a worldwide discussion of this case. Headlines all over the world carried the same message over and over and over.”
Late last year, Spitzer asked the California attorney general’s office to consider taking over the case because of a perceived conflict of interest. State prosecutors declined.
Spitzer said he made the request because of complaints from defense attorneys about alleged politicization of the trial and its effect on the credibility of his office.
“This is not a close call,” Spitzer wrote in the letter to the attorney general. “It is a blatant abuse of power and misuse of government resources for personal gain by the former administration of this office. This office cannot suffer any more credibility setbacks given its history of prosecutorial abuse.”
The couple were initially charged with sexual assaults on two women that allegedly occurred in 2016. After the case was publicized in 2018, charges involving five more women were filed. Robicheaux was charged with 17 felonies, including five rape charges, while Riley was charged with 13 felonies. The charges include rape by use of drugs, kidnap to commit rape and oral copulation by anesthesia.
Cohen said Robicheaux and Riley’s lives have likely been forever altered by the allegations lodged against them.
“I don’t think anyone can truly understand what Grant and Cerissa are going through,” Cohen said. “They’ve gone to bed every night, eaten every meal with the threat of prison hanging over their heads. That has to be an unbelievably devastating way to live.”
Spitzer said prosecutors would make the request to the court to dismiss the charges this week. He invited any of the women who lodged allegations against the couple to meet with him to discuss his decision.
He also offered a public apology to the women involved and to Robicheaux and Riley, calling what happened in the case a “travesty.”
“I didn’t create this situation, but it’s my responsibility to fix it,” Spitzer said. “Doing justice is not always pretty, and it’s not pleasant many times. This is not pleasant at all, but these are important decisions that affect people’s lives.”
Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.
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