The state attorney general’s office has decided to not re-file rape charges against Deputy District Attorney Michael Gressett, thereby ending a nearly four-year scandal that brought down the bungling power structure that had run the Contra Costa County DA’s Office for decades, and which may end up costing county taxpayers millions of dollars.
The announcement wasn't a big surprise, given that an independent arbiter ruled in September 2011 that the case had been muddied by politics and that Gressett should get his job back with full back pay for salary and benefits, and that later last year, a retired Santa Clara judge dismissed the thirteen-count felony indictment against Gressett. But while the attorney general’s decision to dismiss the indictment ended the criminal proceedings against Gresset, the legal proceedings may just be beginning.
The scandal erupted in 2008, when former DA Robert Kochly arrested Gressett, one of his most tenured and popular deputies, on allegations that he had raped junior deputy prosecutor Holly Harpham in his condominium during a lunch break. The lascivious details, which included a handgun, ice pick, ice cubes and handcuffs, made headlines throughout the Bay Area, and, at first blush, it appeared that an accomplished veteran prosecutor realy had gone dangerously off the rails. Gressett — who, ironically, worked in the DA’s sex crimes unit — never denied having kinky sex with Harpham, but always said that their encounter was consensual.
But the case against Gressett quickly began to fall apart as more facts came to light. The first revelation was that Kochly — along with his top two administrative prosecutors, Paul Sequeira and Brian Baker — waited four months to arrest Gressett, which went against standard protocol or common sense for an allegation that, if proven true, would've meant that the DA had allowed a crazed and violent rapist to work among female prosecutors, support staff, and sex-crime survivors for months.
Then serious holes began to emerge in the alleged victim's story. First of all, Harpham gave varying versions of the attack. It was also odd that just fifteen minutes after the alleged attack — which she described as so violent that it stained the bed with significant amounts of her blood and feces — Harpham went shopping with a co-worker who did not notice anything unusual about her physical appearance or demeanor. Even more disturbing, within three days of the alleged attack, Harpham texted Gressett a pornographic picture of woman being “teabagged.”
And that was only the beginning of the problems with the case against Gressett.There was also a shadowy connection between Harpham and then-candidate for district attorney Dan O’Malley, a criminal defense attorney, former deputy district attorney, and superior court judge. After the alleged attack, Harpham did not seek out medical attention or report the crime to the police. Instead, she claimed to have gone to O’Malley’s law partner, whose specialty is defending drunk drivers. It also turned out that Gressett had been a candidate for DA several times in the previous three years, which may have put him on the outs with Kochly and his administrators. Furthermore, Gressett worked under Mark Peterson, who had announced that he was going to run against O’Malley for Kochly’s job.
Furthermore, there was also a drug-addicted prostitute who appears to have cut a deal with Sequeira and Baker to give an incriminating statement against Gressett in exchange for the release of her sex-offender boyfriend, who was in jail on charges that he attacked a man with a sledgehammer. (After his release, the boyfriend was arrested again in connection with a botched home invasion robbery in which more than thirty gunshots were fired.)
The Gressett case's costs to taxpayers continues to rise. The California State Attorney General took over prosecution of the case ostensibly to avoid a conflict of interest, but the case was severely undermined when it came out that the grand jury was not told that Harpham had collected a $450,000 settlement from the county because she was forced to work in the same office as her alleged attacker for months after she reported the alleged rape. Sequeira also has a $250,000 settlement pending in relations a fistfight he was involved in with a prosecutor he supervised. While the criminal case against Gressett is now a thing of the past, it is still uncertain whether he will file a civil case against the county — which could run into the millions.