Prosecutors seek dismissal of all charges in rape case against Newport Beach surgeon, his girlfriend

ByTony Cabrera and staff KABC logo
Wednesday, February 5, 2020
Prosecutors seek to drop rape case against OC surgeon
Prosecutors on Tuesday said they will seek to drop a high-profile rape case against a Newport Beach surgeon who appeared in a reality TV dating show.

SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer announced Tuesday his office will seek the dismissal of all rape charges against a Newport Beach surgeon and his girlfriend after claiming his predecessor mishandled the high-profile case.

Spitzer detailed a timeline of the investigation of Dr. Grant Robicheaux and Cerissa Riley at a news conference in which he said a full review of the case by his office's executive team found a lack of evidence.

"There is not a single piece of evidence or video or photo that shows an unconscious or incapacitated woman being sexually assaulted. Not one,'' he said.

Spitzer lambasted former D.A. Tony Rackauckas for allegedly botching the investigation. Spitzer accused Rackauckas of making a public "misstatement'' that there may be up to 1,000 potential victims, a claim that prompted hundreds of phone calls into the district attorney's office and made national headlines.

Spitzer said his office would be filing papers this week seeking the dismissal of the case, though it was not immediately clear when a hearing would be held.

In an unsual move, Spitzer offered a public apology to Riley and Robicheaux, who previously appeared on the Bravo TV show "Online Dating Rituals of the American Male."

"What happened to their lives and how this case materialized is nothing short of a travesty," he said. "Based on the evidence and the manner in which this case unfolded, this office could not ensure a fair trial for the defendants or meet its burden of proof. This office will always be fair. We will never try to manufacture evidence, manipulate evidence, put on a case or do anything that's not respectful of both the victims and the defendants."

Spitzer added that the public and media were led to believe that there was video evidence that confirmed thousands of victims whom the couple was suspected of recording in multiple cities.

"I hope that together we can do as good a job as getting the word out about what had originally been thought to have occurred and been alleged, and get the word out as to that there was two individuals who were mistreated by the system and they didn't deserve it because of a re-election," he said.

When Spitzer was running against Rackauckas in 2018, he ripped the former D.A. for playing politics with the case to get publicity for his re-election effort. At one point, the two had dueling news conferences outside of the Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach on the case.

During the hour-long press conference, Spitzer claimed Rackauckas used the case for campaign purposes. He also showed reporters a video of Rackauckas' deposition in June of 2019, when he admitted to exploiting the case for his re-election bid.

Prosecutors on Tuesday said they will seek to drop a high-profile rape case against a Newport Beach surgeon who appeared in a reality TV dating show.

Rackauckas confirmed that the publicity from the case that gained national attention would be helpful for his campaign.

Attorneys for the defendants criticized prosecutors for not turning over an email from one alleged victim, who said she did not want to proceed with her part in the criminal case because she objected to Spitzer. The woman said she felt Spitzer used the victims in this case for his own political stunt against Rackauckas, according to the woman's email sent in November 2018.

The case was bogged down with many legal skirmishes and politics since Rackauckas announced charges.

In October, Spitzer revealed that he asked the Attorney General's Office to consider taking over the case due to a perceived conflict of interest, but state prosecutors said Spitzer could continue working the case.

At the time, Spitzer added he wanted to ensure that the "rights of the victims in this case, as well as the rights of the defendants, are protected as is my duty under the law.''

Robicheaux, 39, and Riley, 32, have pleaded not guilty to drugging and sexually assaulting multiple victims.

Robicheaux is charged in connection with seven victims, while Riley is charged with five.

Prosecutors have contended that the two would take advantage of their good looks to meet women in restaurants or bars, then drug them and lure them back to Robicheaux's apartment, where they were sexually assaulted.

Another unusual aspect of the case is how a civil suit filed by an alleged victim created issues in the criminal case. Usually, civil litigation is suspended while a criminal case proceeds, but both the civil suit and criminal case have been proceeding together with one of the defense attorneys conducting depositions in the civil litigation.

Spitzer said he thought some of the statements made in the depositions of Rackauckas and his former chief of staff Susan Kang Schroeder were "disturbing and confirmed to me the validity of all the accusations of impropriety that I levied against the former district attorney and his chief of staff.''

On Tuesday afternoon, Rackauckas sent a statement to ABC7 Eyewitness News, which said:

I just feel terrible for the women who had the courage to come forward and give their evidence to the authorities in this case. It's hard for them to make these reports about things that were so very humiliating in the first place then have to relive the pain. 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. I just hope they're not being sold down the river for some twisted political motive.

Paul Walters, Chief of the OCDA bureau, brought this case to the attention of the executive staff, including me, in 2018 after the case was initially investigated. After the press attention, dozens of complainants came forward with allegations of drugging and/or sexual assault. I reassigned the case to a senior deputy district attorney who gave a fresh and thorough review to the case. This experienced prosecutor filed the complaints that will now be dismissed.

I have had no information or involvement in this case since I left the office more than a year ago. I understand that the current district attorney conducted multiple reviews of the case and initially determined that the case was good. He eventually removed the senior prosecutor and any other prosecutors assigned to this case. I also learned from his press conference that a district attorney investigator has now been put on leave.

It is possible that new evidence was developed and certainly I have dismissed cases (People v. Angela Diaz), and even reversed convictions when I did not have confidence in the evidence (People v. McKinney).

However, considering the complaint contained seven Jane Does, it is too bad the public now does not have the chance to explore the truth during a preliminary hearing. Further, it is my understanding that the Jane Does in this case were not afforded the dignity of being notified about the dismissal prior to today's press conference. I hope the dismissal of this case was not based on the district attorney's relationship with one of the criminal defense attorneys, nor due to his political vendetta against me. Even if all of his allegations against me and my former chief of staff were true, and they are not, the remedy should not be dismissal. 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.

City News Service contributed to this report.