SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Prosecutors on Tuesday said they will seek to drop a high-profile rape case against a California surgeon who appeared in a reality TV dating show.
“There’s insufficient evidence to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt," Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer told a news conference.
“This office will go to court as soon as possible and seek a dismissal on all the charges against the defendants," he said.
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 case has been mired in controversy and steeped in a contentious political battle between Spitzer, who took office a year ago, and his predecessor at the Orange County District Attorney's office, Tony Rackauckas. During his election campaign, Spitzer accused Rackauckas of improperly handling the case and using it to draw publicity.
Rackauckas, who led the office when the pair was charged, held a news conference in 2018 to announce the case and told reporters that investigators were sifting through thousands of videos and images found on Robicheax's phone and some showed women who were barely responsive.
The comments drew widespread media attention. In the following days, Rackauckas announced five additional alleged victims had come forward.
Defense lawyers have said there are no such videos. 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 after he left office 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, 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 then asked attorneys in his office to review the extensive amounts of evidence in the case including audio and video recordings and text messages. He said they 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 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.
Attorney Michael Fell, who represents one of the alleged victims, said she will be devastated after working with authorities to get the charges filed.
“My client believes with all of her heart she was sexually assaulted,” he said. “That doesn't change what she went through.”