A controversial rape case that roiled the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office and played a pivotal role in last year’s election could come to a close as early as next week. But before it does, the case has prompted yet another embarrassing incident involving a high-profile prosecutor.
The latest incident involves outgoing Chief Assistant District Attorney Paul Sequeira, who played a role in the rape case and is now leaving town after sources said he ran and hid from a process server and then instigated a violent scuffle that resulted in police responding to the scene.
According to several sources inside the DA’s office, Sequeira was leaving work last Wednesday, which was his second to last day as a Contra Costa County employee, when he recognized private investigator and process server Mark Harrison. Harrison was attempting to serve Sequeira with a subpoena to appear at an August 29 hearing in the rape case of Deputy District Attorney Michael Gressett. Attorneys for Gressett had hired Harrison to subpoena Sequeira to appear at the hearing at which they intend to request that the rape allegations against Gressett be dismissed because they are so flimsy.
But when the 53-year-old Sequeira saw Harrison outside his office, Sequeira, an officer of the court and one of the county’s highest ranking representatives of law enforcement, ran back into the district attorney’s building to hide. It’s unclear exactly why Sequeira ran and hid, but he was involved in a questionable deal that almost resulted in Gressett losing his job permanently. Regardless, after two hours of hiding from Harrison, Sequeira ventured out of the building again only to run back in when he saw Harrison was still outside.
The fourth time Sequeira tried to sneak out of the building, Harrison was finally able to serve him. Sequeira, who has a reputation for being a hothead, became belligerent and poked Harrison in the face with his finger, sources said. Harrison then punched Sequeira, a scuffle ensued, and according to Harrison, he held Sequeira down until the Martinez Police arrived at the scene. Lieutenant Aaron Roth declined to discuss the incident in detail because the police report has yet to be finalized. “I can say that an attorney with the DA’s office was involved and there were no arrests but there was a scuffle that resulted in minor injuries,” Roth said.
Sequeira did not respond to calls from the Express to discuss the incident.
But it’s not the first time Sequeira’s strident behavior has resulted in a physical altercation. In May 2010, Sequeira, then third in command in the DA’s office, showed up in the prosecutor’s homicide division to do some electioneering for his chosen DA candidate Dan O’Malley. At one point, Sequeira, who for years had reputation for bullying subordinates into supporting his favored DA candidates, disrupted the office by speaking loudly. The head of the homicide division, Harold Jewett, who did not support O’Malley, came out of his office to see what all the commotion was about. Sequeira began yelling at Jewett about the campaign and ordered Jewett back into his office. When he refused, Sequeira closed the distance to Jewett, and still yelling, put his nose to Jewett’s face. Jewett ended the confrontation by punching Sequeira, who received two stitches above his eye.
Besides process servers and fellow deputy DAs, Sequeira has also had at least one confrontation with a uniformed officer. In 2008, he was watching his son play in a junior college baseball game at San Joaquin Delta College, when he became so upset at a call he began yelling at the umpire and opposing team members. His behavior was apparently so out of control that someone called the college police department. When a female officer arrived, Sequeira allegedly refused her request to move away from the stands and that he remove his hands from his pockets. According to the police report, he squared off to the officer and stepped toward her in an aggressive manner. Sequeira’s behavior was sufficiently menacing that the officer pointed her tazer at the then assistant chief district attorney who finally relented.
Last Wednesday, Harrison was serving Sequeira with a subpoena to testify at a hearing on the rape indictment of Gressett. The California Attorney General’s Office charged Gressett with violently raping a younger prosecutor in 2008 during a lunch break. In an apparent conflict of interest, Sequeira initiated the rape investigation and was personally involved in interviewing the victim and witnesses, who were mostly deputy district attorneys who worked under him. From the beginning there were problems with the case. The victim’s story changed repeatedly and despite the alleged violence of the assault, which supposedly involved handcuffs, an ice pick and a gun, the DA waited more than four months to begin the investigation. Meanwhile Gressett was unaware of the allegations and continued to work in the office alongside female attorneys, office workers, and sexual assault victims. Ultimately Gressett, then 51 years old, was arrested, indicted for rape, and fired from his job.
But the charges against him were so weak that he won his job back through independent arbitration. The arbiter, Norman Brand, ruled Gressett receive all of his back pay and benefits and be rehired immediately. Brand said in his ruling there was reason to believe the victim, only known publicly as “Jane Doe,” lied about the rape and that the DA’s investigation of the allegations appeared to be politically motivated (Gressett had run for DA several times and his immediate supervisor in the sexual assault division was Mark Peterson who ultimately prevailed against O’Malley in the November, 2010 election).
The criminal charges against Gressett are still pending and his attorney, Daniel Russo, will ask the court to dismiss them. Russo subpoenaed Sequeira for his role in the Gressett case, which appears to have involved a shady deal with methamphetamine-addicted prostitute to give false testimony against Gressett at his arbitration. In exchange, her boyfriend would be released from jail. Her boyfriend, Roy Gordon, is a registered sex offender who was in custody for allegedly striking a man in the head with a sledgehammer. Gordon was released under questionable circumstances only to be arrested again within weeks for his involvement in a botched home invasion robbery.
After Peterson won the election in 2010, Sequeira was demoted from his position as third in command in the DA’s office. Sequeira, who by all accounts is a skillful trial attorney, was reassigned to the homicide division. He decided to leave the office and took a job working for Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster.
Eyster did not return calls from the East Bay Express to discuss the wisdom of hiring Sequeira — given all of the questions about his prosecutorial judgment and boorish behavior toward co-workers and law enforcement officers. Eyster and Sequeira went to the same law school in Oregon and are said to be old friends.
Eyster also has had his own problems with co-workers. In 1996, he was fired from his job as a Mendocino prosecutor for yelling at his boss, then District Attorney Susan Massini. In court documents from a related lawsuit, Massini claimed Eyster berated her in a “frightening” manner, according to a 2010 story in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. Eyster claimed he was fired because he supported Massini’s opponent in a 1996 judicial race.