South County man, acquitted in sexual assault case, sues Sheriff's Office

San Luis Obispo County Jail
San Luis Obispo County Jail

A South County man was falsely accused of sexually assaulting two teenagers and while in jail was assaulted by inmates on five different occasions, causing him to lose two teeth, a civil complaint contends.

Michael Aaron McGrew, 34, has been arrested numerous times over the past 16 years and has prior theft convictions, according to court records. He is facing charges of spousal abuse, assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury and dissuading a witness from testifying.

But in 2012, McGrew contends, he was wrongly accused of a crime he didn’t commit. His lawsuit, filed Wednesday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court, names several defendants, including San Luis Obispo County, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Ian Parkinson and four sheriff’s deputies and detectives who worked on his case.

According to the complaint, McGrew served nearly two years in jail before a jury acquitted him of all charges.

He is suing on the grounds of false arrest and imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence and malicious prosecution.

Allegations made in civil complaints only present one side of the story.

McGrew initially filed his suit in federal court in April.

Tony Cipolla, spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, referred questions about the suit to the county counsel’s office.

In an email to The Tribune, Nina Negranti, chief deputy county counsel, wrote that the county will “vigorously defend the lawsuit as a case with no merit.”

McGrew’s civil attorney, David Fisher, who filed the lawsuit, could not be reached for comment.

According to the 36-page civil complaint, the following occurred:

In the early morning hours of May 2, 2012, deputies responded to a 911 call from Nipomo reporting that two females woke to an unknown man in their bed. The alleged victims were 16 and 18 years old.

When deputies arrived, the teens were interviewed together — not separately to ensure their credibility.

During the first 34 minutes of the interview, which was recorded, the girls said McGrew was in the bed between them and began to hold each one of them down either with choke holds or head locks.

Initially, they said they had been asleep and didn’t know whether he had touched them sexually. But later, they said he had.

“Throughout the interview, the alleged victims showed little to no emotion despite having allegedly been through a traumatic event,” the suit claims. “The alleged victims can even be heard laughing at several points throughout the interview.”

During the same interview, both girls changed their story and then said McGrew had touched them sexually before they fended him off.

Investigative reports that were forwarded to the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office did not reflect that the girls changed their story during the interview, the suit states.

After their interview with the deputies, the girls went to Arroyo Grande Community Hospital for a sexual assault test, but both left, against medical advice, prior to the Suspected Abuse

Response Team arriving, the suit contends.

A subsequent interview was “grossly inconsistent” with the first, the suit added, but the different stories were not noted in investigative reports. “These inconsistencies were only discovered by listening to the audio recording of the interview.”

On the recording from the initial interview, deputies could be heard talking about finding small bags of methamphetamine in the alleged victims’ bedroom, the suit stated, but there was no mention of drugs in the report.

McGrew was booked into San Luis Obispo County Jail on May 2, 2012, with bail set at $1 million. At trial, he faced eight felonies, including assault with intent to rape. If convicted, he faced a possible life sentence, according to his complaint.

While awaiting his trial, McGrew was assaulted by other inmates five times because of the nature of the allegations against him, the suit states. He lost two teeth as a result of the assaults.

In March 2014, after three weeks of trial, a jury acquitted McGrew after less than two hours of deliberation, the suit states.

Court records confirm that McGrew was acquitted.

McGrew is seeking punitive damages. He was unable to work during his incarceration, he contends, and he lost property he had kept in storage because of his inability to pay rent.