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Charges dropped against reality TV surgeon and girlfriend accused of raping dozens of women

In a stunning turn of events, prosecutors in California have dropped multiple rape charges against a reality TV show doctor and his girlfriend, after finding key video evidence never actually existed.

The high profile case, that grabbed headlines around the world in 2018, saw Newport Beach orthopaedic surgeon Grant Robicheaux, and his girlfriend Cerissa Riley, charged with rape by use of drugs, kidnapping, and other crimes.

At the time, authorities alleged that the pair plied their victims with drugs and sexually assaulted them when they were incapable of resisting.

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Mr Robicheaux previously appeared on a Bravo TV show called Online Dating Rituals of the American Male.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said that after an extensive review he decided to ask the court to dismiss the case.

“There’s insufficient evidence to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt,” he told a news conference.

The case dates back to police investigations in 2016 into two incidents that weren’t referred for prosecution. The following year, prosecutors were notified there was a DNA match for evidence taken from one of the alleged victims — but it wasn’t to the defendants, Mr Spitzer said.

Authorities searched Mr Robicheaux’s home in January 2018 and found drugs, guns and photos and videos. In September of that year, Spitzer’s predecessor Tony Rackauckas told reporters in a news conference that investigators were sifting through thousands of videos and images found on Mr Robicheaux’s phone, some that showed women who were barely responsive.

Defence lawyers challenged the existence of videos showing sexual assault. Mr Spitzer confirmed that on Tuesday: “There is not a single piece of evidence or video or photo that shows an unconscious or incapacitated woman being sexually assaulted. Not one.”

Two veteran sexual assault prosecutors were assigned to review the case. Over three months, they reviewed every piece of evidence including thousands photographs, videos, emails and chats, as well as audio recordings, documents, text messages between the defendants, victims and others, conversations on Bumble, Tinder, Facebook, and other social media services, and transcripts of interviews and depositions.

The prosecutors told Spitzer that they didn’t feel the allegations of any of the seven alleged victims could be proven in court, prompting him to decide to seek the dismissal.

The case has been mired in controversy centred on a contentious political battle between the two Republican DAs. During his election campaign, Mr Spitzer accused Mr Rackauckas of improperly handling the case and using it to draw publicity. He said Mr Rackauckas acknowledged during a civil deposition in June 2019 that he had hoped the case of the good-looking doctor and his girlfriend would bring him publicity during his re-election campaign.

Fearing a potential conflict of interest following his criticism of his predecessor, Mr Spitzer last year asked the California Attorney General’s Office to take over the prosecution of the case. But the state determined there was no issue and the county should proceed.

Mr Rackauckas’ handling of the case has been referred to the State Bar for review, and Mr Spitzer has opened an internal personnel investigation. He apologised to the defendants, the Newport Beach Police Department, the public and the alleged victims, and said he would meet with them to discuss his decision.

Philip Kent Cohen, Mr Robicheaux’s attorney, said the decision was thrilling and that he hopes his client, who was a renowned hand surgeon with a successful medical practice, will be able to rebuild a life for himself.

“The mere filing of this case has destroyed irreparably two lives,” he said.

Attorney Michael Fell, who represents one of the alleged victims, said she will be devastated after working with authorities to get the charges filed.

“My client believes with all of her heart she was sexually assaulted,” he said. “That doesn’t change what she went through.”