SANTA ANA (CBSLA) – In a shocking turn of events, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer announced Tuesday that his office is seeking to drop charges against a Newport Beach orthopedic surgeon and his girlfriend – both previously charged with drugging and sexually assaulting several women – after a review of the case found a lack of evidence and a mishandling of the case by the previous DA.
Spitzer accused his predecessor, Tony Rackauckas, of possible prosecutorial misconduct: sensationalizing the case and driving it forward as a publicity stunt to further his own re-election efforts.
Back in September of 2018, 39-year-old Grant William Robicheaux and 32-year-old Cerissa Laura Riley were charged with 17 counts each, including rape by use of drugs, oral copulation by anesthesia, assault with intent to commit sexual offense and possession of a controlled substance for sale.
At the time, Rackauckas said Robicheaux and Riley would meet their victims at local bars and restaurants, drug them and then take them home and sexually assault them. Rackauckas claimed investigators had about 1,000 of these videos on the suspects’ phones.
On Tuesday, Spitzer said that he assigned new prosecutors to the case after he took office, and their review found no evidence of unconscious women being assaulted.
“There is not a single piece of evidence or video or photo that shows an unconscious or incapacitated woman being sexually assaulted, not one,” Spitzer announced at a lengthy news conference Tuesday.
Spitzer then went on to apologize to the defendants.
“What happened in their lives and how this case materializes is nothing short of a travesty,” Spitzer said.
Defense attorney Philip Cohen celebrated the announcement.
“Needless to say, we are elated,” Cohen said. “I truly wanna thank Todd Spitzer, it was an incredibly brave and courageous move that he made.”
Spitzer, a longtime O.C. Supervisor, ran for and defeated Rackauckas in the DA’s race in November of 2018.
In a statement to CBSLA Tuesday, Rackauckas wrote: “It is possible that new evidence was developed and certainly I have dismissed cases and even reversed convictions when I did not have confidence in the evidence. However, considering the complaint contained seven Jane Does, it is too bad the public does not have the chance to explore the truth during a preliminary hearing.”
In October of this year, Spitzer revealed that he asked the California 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 it.
An 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 Tuesday said that when Rackauckas was deposed in the civil case, he admitted that he had used the criminal case to help his re-election effort.
“Did you see this case of a thousand victims, a good-looking doctor, a good-looking girlfriend, as being a potential publicity vehicle for you?” Rackauckas was asked by a defense attorney in his deposition.
“I certainly expected to get in a lot of publicity, yes,” he responded.
“And did you think that the publicity may be helpful to your campaign?”
“Yes,” Rackauckas responded.
Both Robicheaux and Riley have previously pleaded not guilty to the charges and remain free on bail. Robicheaux was charged in connection with seven victims, while Riley was charged with five.
Robicheaux was featured on Bravo’s show “Online Dating Rituals of the American Male” back in 2014.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)