Accusations of workplace sexual assault must be promptly, thoroughly and independently investigated.
Alameda County officials understand that; Contra Costa officials do not. That's why Alameda County's chief probation officer was placed on administrative leave Tuesday after accusations that he sexually assaulted and harassed a subordinate. On the same day, the case against a Contra Costa prosecutor was dropped without resolution of whether he raped a junior colleague.
Both cases involve accusations of men in positions of power assaulting women from their offices. In each case, the accuser's push for a financial settlement opens the door to questions about motive. Both cases deserve fair investigations and legal hearings to determine if there was criminal wrongdoing.
That might happen in the Alameda County case. It didn't in Contra Costa because officials there botched their case.
Alameda County officials responded quickly to an accusation less than two weeks ago that Chief Probation Officer David Muhammad had forced himself on one of his deputies. In her accusations, the woman described assaults on two different occasions in her car.
She says she delayed filing her claim against the county about the May incidents at the request of the San Leandro Police Department, which was investigating. The case has been forwarded to the state Attorney General's Office; Alameda County prosecutors, who worked frequently with Muhammad,
Muhammad denies the accusations, says he understands their seriousness, respects the Board of Supervisors' decision to place him on leave and asks everyone to withhold judgment. It's a reasonable request to let the legal process play out.
Contrast that with the criminal case against Michael Gressett, a sex-crimes prosecutor in the Contra Costa District Attorney's Office. We'll probably never know if he raped another attorney using an ice pick, ice cubes and a handgun during a 2008 lunch break at his Martinez condominium -- or whether the sex was consensual as he argues.
The moment the case was reported, then-District Attorney Robert Kochly should have immediately and completely turned it over to an outside investigator. Instead, nothing was done for four months. It was finally jointly investigated by the state Attorney General's Office and investigators within Kochly's dysfunctional office, even though Gressett had run against Kochly in 2002.
Yet Kochly withheld from state prosecutors who took the case to a grand jury important information that might have helped Gressett. The grand jury was never told that the accuser had received a $450,000 settlement from the county because of the case, nor that she had allegedly said at one point that she was raped by strangers. Because of those omissions, a judge tossed out the criminal indictment.
The state Attorney General's Office offered no explanation this week for its decision to not refile charges. The public, Gressett and his accuser deserve to hear the reasons. We don't know if state prosecutors have concluded Gressett is innocent or that their case is too weak.
This unsettling ending probably could have been avoided if the case had been handled properly. A complete and impartial investigation likely would have produced solid evidence or an earlier dismissal. Instead, the process in Contra Costa was polluted from the onset.
In their case, Alameda County officials seem to be avoiding such mistakes.