Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and Newport Beach Police Chief Jon Lewis Wednesday defended their investigation of a physician and his girlfriend, who are accused of drugging and sexually assaulting multiple victims, as Supervisor Todd Spitzer accused law enforcement of putting the public at risk by waiting too long to make an arrest.
Spitzer, who is running to unseat Rackauckas in November, also accused the county’s top prosecutor of moving up an arraignment date for Dr. Grant Robicheaux, 38, and Cerissa Laura Riley, 31, to get publicity during early voting. Their arraignment was originally scheduled for Oct. 25.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Walker said the arraignment was moved up due to the seriousness of newly filed allegations against the pair, which also prompted prosecutors to seek a higher bail for the Newport Beach residents, who had previously posted $100,000 bail.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Greg Jones set bail at $1 million for the defendants in light of the new charges, with Robicheaux accused of sexually assaulting seven women and Riley accused of participating in the sexual assault of five of them.
“The only reason this case was advanced today is for the election and nothing more,” Spitzer told reporters after the defendants’ arraignment Wednesday. He said prosecutors were “shellacked” in court as Jones rejected pleas to raise bail to $3 million.
Jones, who signed off on a search warrant in January, said in court that if prosecutors feared the two were such a risk to the public, they should have arrested them then.
“Why wasn’t this case fast-tracked and arrests made earlier?” the judge asked prosecutors. “If there’s probable cause to search, then there’s probable cause to arrest.”
Spitzer contends the D.A. waited to get more publicity before the election.
“These women have been exploited,” he said of the victims. “And they will continue to be exploited.”
Police were alerted to the alleged assaults in April 2016, and at a news conference last month, Rackauckas said he first learned of the case a couple weeks prior to that.
“Either that was a lie or incompetence,” Spitzer said.
Spitzer noted that in the Newport Beach Police Department’s request for a search warrant that Detective Marie Gamble said the allegations against the pair showed “patterns of a high-risk sexual predator.”
After police executed the search warrant in January, they seized drugs, guns and money from Robicheaux’s home.
Spitzer said he was especially “offended” to learn that the two were twice allowed to go traveling out of the country together as police investigated them.
“So there are more victims. Surprise, surprise,” Spitzer said. “That’s because the District Attorney is already botching this case. For almost a year they had drugs, guns and money, the instruments of the crime, and they should have been arrested in January and called for more victims then.”
But Rackauckas told reporters “it took some time to bring everything together” in terms of evidence.
“We didn’t have the case at that point,” he said of the possibility of arresting the two in January.
Lewis added that “obviously these are complicated cases … Sometimes that takes time.”
Part of the problem in the case was investigators had to stop short of reviewing evidence in the defendants’ computers and devices because they came across data that appeared to be protected by doctor-patient or attorney-client privilege, Rackauckas said.
A “clean team” of experts needs to go over the evidence to cherry-pick out the privileged information before investigators can review it all, Senior Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Walker told reporters.
“We filed the charges as soon as we could,” Rackauckas said. “I would like to see them in custody as soon as possible.”
Lewis said, “We’re confident in our investigation and the work our officers have done in this case.”
Rackauckas also said that if prosecutors have moved too quickly, without all of the necessary evidence to make a case against the defendants, then the pair might have been able to quickly demand a preliminary hearing and get the charges thrown out right away.
“That would be unprofessional and foolish,” he said.
Rackauckas did, however, acknowledge that it was a “significant amount of time” from April 2016, when the first sexual assault allegation surfaced, to the end of 2017 to request a search warrant.
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