Rape, Politics and a Forgotten Safeword

11/06/10 0 COMMENTS

A Troubled Rape Case
The high-profile rape charges against Deputy District Attorney Michael Gressett are tainted by questionable facts, unorthodox prosecutorial conduct, and the unmistakable whiff of politics.
By John Geluardi

Chris Duffey
“This case has stirred up a shit storm, and the Contra Costa District Attorney’s office is right in the middle of it,” said Gressett’s chief attorney Daniel Russo.

The rape allegations from within Contra Costa County’s District Attorney’s office were bound to make big headlines. Michael Gressett was a 51-year-old deputy district attorney who worked for the sexual assault unit. His alleged victim was a 29-year-old coworker who said Gressett violently assaulted her during a lunch break. The Martinez Police Department’s September 2008 press release was replete with lurid charges like “sodomy,” “forced oral copulation,” and “penetration with a foreign object.” The alleged props — including a gun, handcuffs, steak knife, ice cubes, and an ice pick — seemed plucked from the pages of a Marquis de Sade novel.

Not surprisingly, the story attracted wide attention. The San Francisco Chronicle assigned two reporters and the Contra Costa Times posted a complete copy of the criminal complaint on its web site. Television news joined the fray, and soon Gressett’s face was plastered all across the Bay Area. And no one followed the story more closely than the lawyers and politicians who work for Contra Costa County. So many people have viewed the case file that clerks in the courthouse keep it handy like it was a popular library book. When a reporter asked for the file by its case number, the clerk immediately said, “Oh, you want the Gressett file.”

The veteran prosecutor’s reputation as an office iconoclast only added to the case’s newsworthiness. Gressett has run for the position of Contra Costa County District Attorney three separate times, putting him in disfavor with the old-boy power structure that has controlled the office for decades. After the charges came to light, District Attorney Robert Kochly did what he could to distance his office from Gressett’s alleged behavior. “It’s a sad day for our office for anything like this to occur,” Kochly told the Chronicle. “Anything of this nature is devastating to the office. It’s antithetical to what we’re about.”

After his arrest, Gressett might have been expected to cease being a thorn in management’s side. Once he was released from jail on a $1 million bond, he was promptly fired. He now faces a possible life sentence for thirteen felony counts including rape, forced sodomy, forced oral copulation, and making death threats.

But instead of slinking away, his defense team has mounted an aggressive investigation that is shedding a withering light on both the DA’s office and the charges against him. The inquiry exposed an office sexual culture so highly charged that it makes HBO’s Mad Men look like pimply sophomores toeing their insteps at a high school dance mixer. The inquiry also sheds light on an unusual contract hiring system in which young attorneys like the alleged victim live in constant fear of losing their jobs. “Pandora’s box has been opened and what’s inside is not pretty,” said Michael Cardoza, one of Gressett’s defense attorneys. “I was a deputy district attorney for sixteen years and I am appalled at what goes on in that office.”

Read the rest here: http://www.eastbayexpress.com/gyrobase/a-troubled-rape-case/Content?oid=1371765&showFullText=true