Rape case to be dropped against doc­tor

Antelope Valley Press - - OPINION - By AMY TAXIN

SANTA ANA — Pros­e­cu­tors will seek to dis­miss charges that a doc­tor who ap­peared on a re­al­ity TV show and his girl­friend raped and drugged women in Cal­i­for­nia af­ter find­ing key video ev­i­dence never ac­tu­ally ex­isted, an of­fi­cial said Tues­day.

Or­tho­pe­dic sur­geon Grant Ro­bicheaux of New­port Beach — who pre­vi­ously ap­peared on a Bravo TV show called “On­line Dat­ing Rit­u­als of the Amer­i­can Male” — and his girl­friend Cerissa Ri­ley were charged in 2018 with rape by use of drugs, kid­nap­ping and other crimes. At the time, au­thor­i­ties al­leged that the pair plied their vic­tims with drugs and sex­u­ally as­saulted them when they were in­ca­pable of re­sist­ing.

But the high-pro­file case that grabbed in­ter­na­tional head­lines has been mired in con­tro­versy and steeped in a con­tentious po­lit­i­cal bat­tle be­tween Or­ange County Dis­trict At­tor­ney Todd Spitzer, who took of­fice about a year ago, and his pre­de­ces­sor Tony Rack­auckas. Dur­ing his elec­tion cam­paign, Spitzer ac­cused Rack­auckas of im­prop­erly han­dling the case and us­ing it to draw public­ity.

On Tues­day, Spitzer said that af­ter hav­ing at­tor­neys in his of­fice re­view ex­ten­sive ev­i­dence in­clud­ing au­dio and video record­ings, text messages and doc­u­ments, he de­cided to ask the court to dis­miss the case.

“There’s in­suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to prove this case be­yond a rea­son­able doubt,” he told a news con­fer­ence.

The case dates back to po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tions in 2016 into two in­ci­dents that weren’t re­ferred for prose­cu­tion. The fol­low­ing year, pros­e­cu­tors were no­ti­fied there was a DNA match for ev­i­dence taken from one of the al­leged vic­tims — but it wasn’t to the de­fen­dants, Spitzer said.

Au­thor­i­ties searched Ro­bicheaux’s home in Jan­uary 2018 and found drugs, guns and pho­tos and videos. In Septem­ber 2018, Rack­auckas held a news con­fer­ence to an­nounce the case and told re­porters in­ves­ti­ga­tors were sift­ing through thou­sands of videos and images found on Ro­bicheaux’s phone, some that showed women who were barely re­spon­sive.

The com­ments drew wide­spread me­dia at­ten­tion. The next month, Rack­auckas filed ad­di­tional charges on be­half of five ad­di­tional al­leged vic­tims who had come for­ward.

De­fense lawyers chal­lenged the ex­is­tence of videos show­ing sex­ual as­sault. Spitzer con­firmed that.

“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 said.

Spitzer said Rack­auckas ac­knowl­edged dur­ing a civil de­po­si­tion last year that he had hoped the case of the good-look­ing doc­tor and his girl­friend would bring him public­ity dur­ing his re-elec­tion cam­paign.

A mes­sage was sent to Rack­auckas Tues­day seek­ing com­ment.

Fear­ing a po­ten­tial con­flict of in­ter­est fol­low­ing his crit­i­cism of his pre­de­ces­sor, Spitzer last year asked the Cal­i­for­nia At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice to take over the prose­cu­tion of the case. But the state de­ter­mined there was no is­sue and the county should pro­ceed.

Spitzer said last week the at­tor­neys he asked to re­view the case told him they didn’t feel the al­le­ga­tions of any of the seven al­leged vic­tims could be proven in court, prompt­ing him to de­cide to seek the dis­missal.

Spitzer said he has re­ferred Rack­auckas’ han­dling of the case to the State Bar for re­view and has opened an in­ter­nal per­son­nel in­ves­ti­ga­tion. He apol­o­gized to the de­fen­dants, the New­port Beach Po­lice De­part­ment, the pub­lic and the al­leged vic­tims, and said he would meet with them to dis­cuss his de­ci­sion.

Philip Kent Cohen, Ro­bicheaux’s at­tor­ney, said the de­ci­sion was thrilling. Cohen said he hopes his client who was a renowned hand sur­geon with a suc­cess­ful med­i­cal prac­tice will be able to re­build a life for him­self.

“The mere fil­ing of this case has de­stroyed ir­repara­bly two lives,” he said.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Or­ange County Dis­trict At­tor­ney Todd Spitzer speaks dur­ing a news con­fer­ence at the Or­ange County Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s of­fice in Santa Ana, on Tues­day morn­ing, an­nounc­ing that the charges in the case against Dr. Grant Ro­bicheaux and Cerissa Ri­ley are be­ing dropped cit­ing a lack of ev­i­dence and ac­cus­ing his pre­de­ces­sor of mis­han­dling the case.

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