News & Opinion » News

A Troubled Rape Case Becomes Even More Troubling

After Contra Costa County prosecutors agree to a dodgy plea deal that they hoped would advance their case against a former political rival, the felon they released allegedly terrorizes a couple.

by

9 comments

In late 2008, Roy Gerald Gordon was stewing in a Contra Costa County jail on a charge that he had violently assaulted a man with a sledgehammer. As a registered sex offender with a long record of drug offenses, gun possession, and parole violations, Gordon appeared to have a bleak future. With his bail set at $130,000, he wasn't going anywhere, and given his previous convictions, he faced a long prison sentence. But then, without explanation, a superior court judge waived his bail and freed him. It was only after Gordon was allegedly involved in another violent crime that it came to light his bail was part of a dodgy deal between his girlfriend and the troubled Contra Costa District Attorney's Office.

Gordon's girlfriend, Jessie Deguzman, does not seem particularly savvy. Her life has been characterized by a series of bad decisions. Many of the men in her life have been criminals, pimps, or drug addicts, and she has often supported them, and her own crystal methamphetamine addiction, by working as a prostitute. But she apparently had the smarts to dupe the District Attorney's Office into releasing her boyfriend by making flimsy charges in an unrelated case.

Deguzman agreed to allege that former Deputy District Attorney Michael Gressett had exchanged sex with her twice in 2006 in exchange for reduced charges against her pimp. Prosecutors were interested in this allegation because it would help them corroborate their very troubled rape case against Gressett. The former deputy DA, who was fired in 2008, has denied the charges and is currently in arbitration to get his old job back.

But when the time came for Deguzman to testify against Gressett earlier this month, she suddenly said that she had made up all the charges just to get her boyfriend Gordon out of jail. The plea deal blew up in the faces of the DA's two top managing prosecutors, but not before an innocent Pittsburg couple had been thrown into a desperate battle for their lives against a group of armed intruders that appears to have included Gordon.

The bungled bail deal is just the latest unsavory episode in a series of embarrassing and questionable actions connected to the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office and the political campaign to replace District Attorney Bob Kochly. The increasingly absurd situation calls into question the judgment of the two most powerful prosecutors in the DA's office. And the problems also lead to the private law offices of Dan O'Malley, a leading candidate for district attorney.

A hot topic during this election season has been how deeply troubled the DA's office has become. Besides deep budget cuts, the office has been revealed to be the home of a sex-obsessed office culture, strong-arm political intimidation, and an election-related fistfight between a top administrator and his lead homicide prosecutor. Most troubling is the questionable investigation into rape allegations against the veteran prosecutor Gressett, who was charged with sexually assaulting a junior colleague during a lunch break. District Attorney Kochly fired Gressett after he was arrested for the rape.

The rape investigation was seriously flawed (see "A Troubled Case of Rape," Oct. 28, 2009). It also has been criticized as designed to enhance O'Malley's bid for district attorney by destroying Gressett, a popular attorney who had challenged his boss in three previous elections. The investigation just also happened to throw dirt on Gressett's supervisor at the time of the alleged rape, Deputy District Attorney Mark Peterson, a 25-year prosecutor who is running against O'Malley and the power structure that has dominated the DA's Office for more than three decades.

Details of the Deguzman deal came out during Gressett's arbitration hearing earlier this month. It began when candidate O'Malley, a criminal defense attorney, was visiting a client at the West County Detention Facility. Gordon, who was awaiting trial on the sledgehammer assault, asked O'Malley to represent him. O'Malley has said that he referred the case to his law partner, Thomas O'Connor.

After O'Connor took the case, he ended up meeting with Gordon's girlfriend, Deguzman, and it somehow came up that she had information on the unrelated rape case against Gressett. Deguzman later said she told O'Connor that she had twice performed oral sex on Gressett in 2006 in order to get him to reduce the charges against her pimp, whom he was prosecuting. According to O'Malley, O'Connor passed this information onto the DA's Office.

Probably because the Gressett rape investigation had produced such a weak case, Deguzman's story touched a nerve at the DA's office. The victim in the Gressett rape case, who has been identified as Jane Doe, has given conflicting versions of the incident and showed no physical evidence of assault despite what she described as a violent attack. Furthermore, when the case made a splash in the media, not one other woman aside from Deguzman came forward to claim that the 51-year-old veteran prosecutor had so much as made an inappropriate comment.

Consequently, the DA's Office gave Deguzman's story top priority. According to testimony at Gressett's job arbitration hearing by Chief Assistant District Attorney Brian Baker, on January 7, 2009 Baker and Chief Inspector Gene Greenwald picked up Deguzman at the drug treatment facility where she was being treated for addiction to crystal methamphetamine. From there, they drove her to O'Malley's law office where they met Assistant District Attorney Paul Sequeira and Lt. Inspector Daryl Jackson. Deguzman then made her allegations about Gressett. Baker and Sequeira were apparently so eager to shore up the case against Gressett that they agreed to remove Gordon's bail without verifying any of Deguzman's claims, according to Baker's testimony.

The following day, Superior Court Judge Brian Haynes waived the $130,000 bail for Gordon on his own recognizance. Haynes may have broken the law when he released Gordon. The California Penal Code requires judges to explain on the record anytime they waive bail on a person suspected of committing a felony in which they inflict great bodily injury on another person, which Gordon did when he struck his victim with a sledgehammer. According to court documents, Haynes put no such explanation into the record.

Judge Haynes declined to comment, but he is closely associated with O'Malley. Haynes threw a fundraiser for O'Malley when the latter ran for judge in 2000, according to Deputy District Attorney Doug MacMaster. Meanwhile, Haynes' wife works as a clerk in the office of Judge Ann O'Malley, Dan O'Malley's wife.

Mark Harrison, a private investigator who is working for Gressett, said the presence of the two prosecutors in the DA's office says a lot about the weakness of their case against Gressett. "The fact that the DA's top brass was there for the meeting shows how desperate they are to destroy Mike," Harrison said.

Harrison said their involvement also shows how closely linked the Gressett case is to the current election for district attorney. If O'Malley loses the election to Deputy District Attorney Mark Peterson, Baker and Sequeira's fall from grace is expected to be swift and possibly humiliating.

Baker, Sequeira, and District Attorney Kochly did not return calls to the Express. But in an interview with the Contra Costa Times, Sequeira defended the Deguzman deal, and admitted that it led directly to Gordon's release. "It's kind of that risk-reward," he said. "She gave us the kind of stuff you can't have DAs doing."

But on August 4, just before she was scheduled to testify at Gressett's job arbitration hearing, Deguzman told county officials that she had lied about having sex with Gressett. "I admitted I was lying because of the guilt," said Deguzman, who has publicly apologized to Gressett. "Of course, I would say anything if it would get my boyfriend out. Anybody with a loved one in jail would do the same thing."

Harrison said that prosecutors could easily have discovered that she was lying if they had ever bothered to check out her story. But he said they were evidently so eager to get dirt on Gressett that they didn't bother verifying any of the details before they released Gordon.

Deguzman may have outsmarted the second and third most powerful prosecutors in the county into releasing her boyfriend from jail on his own recognizance with a half-baked story about sexual misconduct. But Gordon wasn't out of jail for long.

About four months after the DA's office sprung Gordon from jail, on April 23, 2009, Pittsburg residents Leslie and Reed Black were enjoying a typical Thursday evening. The couple, both 49, watched Survivor, and then Leslie, a school bus driver, and Reed, who works for Contra Costa County mosquito vector control, went to bed. Just after midnight, the couple was awaked by someone persistently ringing their doorbell.

Leslie's 21-year-old son Kyle opened the door to an agitated woman who asked for "Nick." Kyle told the woman no one by that name lived there, then closed the door and returned to his room.

A few minutes later, two intruders kicked in the front door. Reed, a former combat MP, flew out of bed and ran down the darkened hallway. Before he could get oriented, he was face to face with a man armed with a shotgun. Reed grabbed the shotgun and the two men began to wrestle for control of the weapon. That's when Leslie came running down the hall at full speed and threw the full weight of her 200-pound frame into the intruder, who was knocked back several feet. The intruder tried to punch Leslie, who has a brown belt in karate, and she did her best to ward off the blows in what she described as a "wax on, wax off," defense. Then a second intruder came to the door armed with a .45 caliber handgun. He bobbed around, trying to get a clear shot at Leslie. He closed the distance to about three feet from her, and fired. The bullet narrowly missed her head and went through the walls of her son's room.

A moment after the shot, Reed, now in control of the shotgun, fired a blast in the direction of the front door. The shotgun pellets blew a hole in the couple's recliner ("It was very dark in the living room and Reed didn't have his glasses," Leslie explained). The shotgun blast spooked the intruders and they ran from the house into the street where three more accomplices using handguns fired as many as 35 shots as they fled the scene, according to Pittsburg police.

Reed got off one more shot, which lodged six double ought buckshot pellets in his neighbor's tow truck and a single pellet in the leg of one of the intruders. Luckily, Leslie and Reed were not seriously hurt. "From start to finish, it couldn't have been more than 45 seconds," Leslie said. "It all happened so fast, there wasn't any time to be scared."

Pittsburg police quickly arrested six suspects, who said they were trying to rob a drug dealer but had selected the wrong house. One of those arrested was Roy Gordon, who is now back in jail facing five felony counts of robbery for using a weapon and committing a violent crime while being free on bail. Gordon fired a weapon during the attempted robbery but he never entered the Black's home, Pittsburg police said.

District Attorney candidate Dan O'Malley insists that he had nothing to do with the Deguzman deal. "I had no participation in that case," he said. "I don't want to sound like I'm naive, but I purposely stayed away from that case. I never talked to my partner about it. I was not present at the meetings. I was never debriefed. I didn't even know it existed." But O'Malley did represent Gordon in two court appearances, only to sign a motion withdrawing as Gordon's attorney of record shortly after Gordon was involved in the assault on the Blacks.

In fact, O'Malley's link to the Deguzman deal is oddly similar to his connection to Jane Doe, the young deputy district attorney who alleges that Gressett raped her. Just like Deguzman, Jane Doe first made her allegations about Gressett not to the police but to O'Malley's law partner, who in turn notified Sequeira of the alleged rape. Harrison said he is convinced that O'Malley was intimately involved in Deguzman's trumped-up charges against Gressett just as he was apparently involved in the rape charges against Gressett. He thinks the whole damn mess is driven by dirty politics.

Meanwhile, since their home was invaded, the Blacks have installed a security door on their home and taken other measures to protect themselves. Harrison said it was wise of them to do so. "It's a good thing they barricaded their home," Harrison said. "I might barricade mine, too. The way this election is going, anything could happen before it's over."

Comments (9)

Showing 1-9 of 9

Add a comment
 

Add a comment

Anonymous and pseudonymous comments will be removed.