Deputy District Attorney Michael Gressett, who was accused of raping fellow prosecutor Holly Harpham during a lunch break in 2008, has named twenty defendants in a lawsuit that alleges former District Attorney Bob Kochly led a broad conspiracy that included the Martinez Police Department, Contra Costa County, and the California Attorney General's Office to falsely charge him of rape for political gain.
Gressett’s complaint, which seeks damages for malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, and intentional emotional distress, lays out a far-ranging political scandal that includes kinky sex, political intrigue, public corruption, hushed payouts, secret meetings with prostitutes, and a home invasion robbery. The complaint does not name an amount for damages, but it is expected to be in the millions of dollars.
The lawsuit threatens to expose years, if not decades, of wrongdoing by an allegedly corrupt power structure that controlled the DA’s Office until 2010 when Kochly quietly resigned and O’Malley, Kochly’s chosen heir, lost his bid for to be DA to longtime county prosecutor Mark Peterson. “It’s breathtaking when you look at the extent of the corruption and the grand conspiracy to falsely accuse, arrest, and prosecute an innocent man,” said Gressett’s attorney Gary Gwilliam. “There is a great deal of work to be done and we intend to move forward with discovery on all of the defendants. This is the beginning of a long process because there are a lot of people at the county, city, and state level who were involved or did not do their job.”
In November, 2008, Gressett was charged with twelve felony counts of sexual assault, which could have put him away for life had he been convicted. Gressett admitted he had had kinky sex with Harpham, but said it was consensual. Because of the conflict of interest, the state attorney general’s office agreed to be lead prosecutor and as the case moved forward, Kochly fired Gressett, a 22-year veteran of the DA’s Office, in July 2009.
However, the case against Gressett quickly began to fall apart and serious questions were raised about the DA’s investigation and Harpham’s various accounts of the alleged rape. For example, she did not report the incident to the police. Instead, four days after the alleged attack, Harpham, who was competing against other junior prosecutors for a permanent job, went to the law offices of Tom McKenna, who typically litigates drunk driving cases, and Dan O’Malley, the well-connected son of former District Attorney William O’Malley. At the time, Dan O’Malley was preparing to run for DA himself. Then, according to interviews with Harpham’s co-workers, she had made it known around the office that she liked rough sex and that she wanted to “fuck” Gressett. At one point after she had had a previous sexual encounter with Gressett in her San Francisco apartment, she bragged to co-workers how great it was and demonstrated hand marks on her neck where Gressett had supposedly choked her. Then, three days after the alleged attack in Gressett’s condominium, Harpham texted Gressett a pornographic photo of a woman being “tea bagged.”
Harpham also did not immediately seek medical attention despite what she later alleged had been a particularly violent attack that had left blood and feces stains on the bedding in Gressett’s condominium. She also claimed her ovaries were damaged and that she would not be able to become pregnant. A subsequent doctor’s examination showed Harpham had no signs of injuries or rape-related damage to her ovaries.
Then there were irregularities with the DA’s handling of the case. After Harpham’s lawyers reported the alleged rape in May 2008, Kochly took no action whatsoever until four months later. The investigation, led by Deputy Chief District Attorney Paul Sequeira, then appeared to have a political bent. It was most apparent when Sequeira interviewed Gressett’s supervisor then DA candidate Mark Peterson. Peterson complained to Kochly about the appearance of a conflict of interest and then Kochly demoted Peterson.
One of the more alarming counts in Gressett’s lawsuit is the claim that Sequeira and Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Baker attempted to manufacture testimony against Gressett who was trying to win his job back through arbitration. Sequeira and Baker met with Jesse DeGuzman, a prostitute, at O’Malley’s law office to discuss her claims that she had sex with Gressett in exchange for leniency for a boyfriend who was facing criminal charges. In exchange for her testimony, Sequeira and Baker agreed to release her current boyfriend, Roy Gordon, a sex offender who was in jail awaiting trial for attacking a neighbor with a sledgehammer. A superior court judge waived Gordon’s bail and released him on his own recognizance. Gordon was arrested again within weeks for his involvement in a botched home invasion robbery, in which more than 35 gunshots were fired. On the day DeGuzman was to testify at Gressett’s arbitration, she admitted that she had lied about her relationship with him and publically apologized to Gressett.
Prior to trial, Gressett was able to win his job back as well as back pay when an arbitrator found that he had been wrongly fired and that the case against him was deeply flawed. He is still employed by the DA’s Office though he has not worked since his arrest. A superior court judge then tossed the criminal case against him during pre-trial motions because the state attorney general did not divulge to the grand jury that the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors had given Harpham a secret payout of $450,000 despite the serious questions about her allegations. Finally in February, the state attorney general announced that it would not re-file the charges against Gressett and the criminal proceedings against him came to an end.
“I have to think that airing this case out will help bring about some to the way the county does business,” Gressett said. “It will be interesting to see if the county will come forward and admit the malfeasance or whether it will spend more taxpayer money to defend the wrongdoers at all costs.”