Richard Fischer sat quietly in a San Diego courtroom as he listened to the vigorous and at times combative cross-examination by his famed Los Angeles attorney Manny Medrano. Long gone was Fischer’s sheriff deputy uniform, replaced now by sharply cut suits, making him look more like an attorney than the accused. It was October 1, 2018, and thirty-two-year old Fischer was in a courtroom overflowing with media for his preliminary hearing before Judge Daniel Goldstein. It was this very judge, who on June 6, 2018 ordered Fischer must stand trial on 15 charges arising from allegations he groped and fondled 13 women while on duty as a deputy with the San Diego Sheriff’s Department.
As the case received extensive media coverage from the git-go, additional women came forward, and in August the San Diego County District Attorney filed further charges, opening a second case against Fischer. Once again Fischer found himself at a preliminary hearing where Judge Goldstein would determine if enough evidence had been presented for Fischer to stand trial on the new charges. The five felonies were serious: three charges of assault and battery by an officer, one charge of oral copulation by force, and one charge of burglary. If so, a full trial will proceed where a much higher standard of proof will be required, that of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Fischer denies all charges in both cases and has pled not guilty across the board. Fischer has been on paid leave from the Sheriff’s department since February of 2018 and out of custody after posting $2 million bail, which was subsequently reduced to $750,000.
Was This Case Simply a “Money Grab” for Opportunistic Women or Were They True Victims?
Was the motive behind these new accusations simply the desire to win cold, hard cash in a civil court? Attorney Medrano said it was, proclaiming the overarching theme pervading the case was women who had an “extreme and powerful motivation” to win as much money from the County of San Diego as they could. Pure and simple, this was a “money grab” and nothing more. Fired up and fervent, Medrano claimed the protocol for the civil attorneys filing these lawsuits was to “sink their teeth into alleged victims and present them to the district attorney on a silver platter.” Were women fabricating stories and coming forward only after learning lawsuits could be filed and money could be made? Many of the women have filed lawsuits and the county has reached settlements of more than $900,000 with four of the accusers, with the remaining suits yet to be resolved.
Or were these women true victims of a common scheme of sexual misconduct by Deputy Fischer? Were they overpowered by the authority he evoked in his official capacity, and their delay in reporting was due solely to the fear the sexual assaults had wrought, or a hopeless feeling they would simply not be believed? Although the preliminary hearing is not a full trial, Judge Goldstein nevertheless praised the district attorney’s office for conducting a preliminary hearing rather than a closed grand jury proceeding. He stressed the importance of allowing this information to be open to the public, stating when law enforcement is accused of wrongdoing there must be transparency. He also pronounced there was nothing inappropriate to vigorously examining sexual assault victims, bringing out whatever inconsistencies may exist, so the truth may be known. As the hearing got underway, Judge Goldstein ordered the media not to film the women’s faces or the defendant.
Tatjana T.: Hugs, Compliments and a Coerced Sex Act
Known solely as “Tatjana T.” the 51-year-old blond woman settled nervously into the witness stand. Her Serbian ancestry was evident in her heavy accent as she began to relay her encounters with Deputy Fischer. Tatjana runs four independent living facilities for individuals with mental health issues or drug problems, and it is common for law enforcement assistance to be required with a 911 call placed weekly. On New Year’s Eve of 2016, she was alerted to such a call, and living on the premises she walked over to the home in question. Upon arrival, she was informed the problem had been resolved. It was at this time she met Deputy Fischer, who had been dispatched to the call along with another deputy. While standing in the kitchen, Deputy Fischer asked her for a hug. Since it was New Year’s Eve, she didn’t see any harm in it, and gave him a hug. Deputy Fischer left, but soon returned and gave her two more hugs. These hugs were tighter, making her feel uncomfortable. He told her she was beautiful. She was dressed in a black dress and made up ready to celebrate the new year with her grown daughter.
After this encounter, Tatjana testified there were at least four times when she was told by residents an officer with a dog was looking for her. She assumed it was Fischer. Around March 20, 2017, she was in her garage talking with two residents when Deputy Fischer drove up in his patrol car. He came into the garage and asked to speak to her privately. He then gave her compliments, telling her “You’re beautiful. You’re gorgeous.” His manner was flirtatious, and he told her he was not married. When he asked for a hug, she told him it was not appropriate. He hugged her anyway and she tried to push him away. She told him she was uncomfortable and asked him to leave.
Around March 23, 2017, Deputy Fischer again came to her house. She was working in her garage and as he entered he pushed the button to close the garage door. Tatjana testified she was “scared, confused.” He started hugging and kissing her. She tried to push him away, but he was a “big man” and she couldn’t. He kept kissing and hugging her. He complimented her, telling her, “You look very good today.” When Tatjana added, “You look very sexy,” attorney Medrano brought out she never told the district attorney he said that.
Overall, she testified there were five visits, with Deputy Fischer coming by twice in one day. Addressing this day, she recalled it was either in March or April when Deputy Fischer first arrived, but he immediately received a radio call and had to leave. The second visit came around 4:00 in the afternoon. He again closed the garage, complimented her by saying, “You look very beautiful today,” and then hugged and kissed her. When asked by Deputy District Attorney Lisa Fox how it made her feel, she said “Scared, low self-esteem, fear of telling anyone, shame.”
Sometime in March or the first week in April of 2017, around 9:30 – 10:00 p.m. Tatjana was in her apartment in her pajamas lying on the couch when the room was suddenly illuminated by a bright light. “Room light up like daytime” she said. Deputy Fischer was outside with a flashlight shining it through her window. He said he needed to talk to her about something important. She testified she believed it had to do with her business, so she felt she had to talk to him. She opened the garage, but he said he wanted to talk to her inside the apartment. At this point, she didn’t feel like she had a choice. Once in her kitchen, he started kissing her all over her body and touching her breasts. Then he took hold of her wrists in a forceful way and pulled her to her bedroom. When asked what was going through her mind, she said, “Fear of not knowing.” He grabbed her shoulders and pushed her to the bed. He unzipped his pants, grabbed the back of her head, and forced himself into her mouth. He was thrusting, and she tried to pull away. All the while she could hear his police dog barking very loudly in the patrol car. She saw his gun and his bullet proof vest as he continued. All of a sudden he stopped and said, “I’m going. I have a wife and a little girl.” Attorney Medrano brought out he has a little boy.
Afterwards Tatjana said she stayed in bed for two days crying. She felt “very low, sad, not protected” and was scared to say or do anything. She was scared to call the police, couldn’t leave her home for a couple of days, and couldn’t do her job. She did call her three grown daughters though and asked them to come over. She told them about Deputy Fischer, but never revealed the oral copulation as she was “very embarrassed.” They told her to report it, but she didn’t. She said she was scared now of the police, scared to not be believed, as who was going to believe her “calling police on police.” Her middle daughter found her a new apartment and she moved out in June. After she moved, she found her business started going down, so in December she moved back into the apartment she had abandoned but sealed off the garage with a wall to prevent any entrance.
When pressed as to why she did not report, Tatjana said she felt ashamed, confused, depressed, and was filled with fear. Everything changed, and she can’t rely on the police anymore. She told deputies that came to the facility, but they just laughed at her, ignored her, or tried to change the subject. One day her oldest daughter called her and told her to turn on the news, and she saw Deputy Fischer. Her daughter asked her, “Is this the man?” She saw other stories where women were suing. She called the district attorney’s office and on July 20, 2018, she submitted to a recorded interview.
On cross-examination, Tatjana confirmed she knew about the lawsuits before meeting with the district attorney’s office. She also acknowledged she filed a civil case with attorney Dan Gilleon, and that she had met with him before meeting with the district attorney. Medrano was incredulous when Tatjana claimed she did not know the civil suit was about money. He cross-examined her harshly that as a business women of decades she had to understand the lawsuit was about money. Attorney Medrano also tried to bring in her 2015 arrest for assault where he said it was a serious beating, the victim did not want to go forward, and the charges were dismissed. Medrano said Tatjana lied by claiming the incident never occurred. Medrano argued it was admissible as it goes to her credibility in this case. Judge Goldstein disagreed.
Sulma G.: A Night of Drinking, a Car Accident, and Unwanted Touching
With her long black hair, youthful face, and slender physic “Sulma G” looked more like 17 than her stated age of 25. Following her to the witness stand was a support dog and handler, which support she would need as her time on the stand would be tough. Despite her youthful appearance, petite stature of 5’1” and mere weight of 95 pounds, Sulma would turn out to be the most confrontational witness of all, with Medrano describing her as a “difficult, combative witness.” She testified to a sensational story.
On September 9, 2017, Sulma was working as a cocktail waitress. Upon leaving her shift at 2:30 in the morning she got into her car. She had consumed 5-6 whiskey drinks and was by her own admission drunk. She soon hit two parked cars, totaling her parents’ car in the process. As smoke filled the air, she crawled out of the back of the car and left the scene. She called her mom crying but did not tell her she was drunk and had just been in an accident. Her mom told her “to go home.” Sulma testified she did not think about asking her mom or dad to come pick her up. Instead she called Jesus, a patron whom she knew from the bar. He came with another man and picked her up.
When they arrived at her apartment in Escondido, they saw the police were there. They immediately drove away, but the police followed them and pulled them over in front of a 7-11. When asked if she was driving the wrecked car, she said, “yes” and further told them she was drunk. She was placed in handcuffs.
Deputy Fischer soon arrived with orders to transport Sulma back to the accident scene. While putting the seat belt on her, Sulma felt he got too close. Deputy Fischer drove back to the accident scene where there were three to four sheriffs already there. Sulma once again admitted to drinking, yet no one gave her a sobriety test. She was also an unlicensed driver, never owning a valid driver’s license through her years of driving. She further had a warrant out for her arrest for failure to show up for her court hearing on a shoplifting case. One would expect her to be arrested without delay, yet nothing of the sort happened. Instead Deputy Fischer said, “Don’t call anyone else for a ride because you don’t want to get any more people arrested.” (Jesus had been arrested for DUI and his passenger for possession of meth). Deputy Fischer said he would take Sulma home. It was now 5:27 a.m.
While driving Sulma home, Deputy Fischer asked Sulma her age and she said she just turned 24. He asked her if she had gotten a birthday kiss. Then asked, “Do you want one?” Arriving at her apartment complex, he began to unbuckle her seat belt and started to rub her legs around the thigh area. She was wearing tight jean shorts as she was still dressed in her cocktail waitress attire. He told her her legs were soft. Then he got really close to her where she could feel him breathing on her. He said she could kiss him if she wanted. Once outside the patrol car, as he removed her handcuffs, Sulma testified he touched her butt, touched her between her legs, against her vagina. He then said, “Are there cameras?” Answering his own question, he said, “Oh yeah, there they are.” He asked her if anyone was home and she told him her parents were in the apartment. He departed saying, “Hopefully next time we see each other it will be under better circumstances.”
When asked why she did not report anything, Sulma testified it took her time to put it all together as she thought she was going to jail. Her friends told her to call 911 but she thought it was “weird.” She did not know if anyone would believe her. Nine months later, in June of 2018, she saw on Facebook a news report that 15 girls were accusing Fischer of misconduct. She called the district attorney and on July 6, 2018, she submitted to a recorded interview. On September 26, 2018, she returned to their office to review the written transcript of her interview. She also brought along the civil attorney she had hired by then. Sulma handwrote extensive revisions causing her endless problems during her time on the stand.
Attorney Medrano rose to cross-examine Sulma and it was not pretty. He asked her if she was fired from her job because she had a habit of drinking on the job. Back and forth it went as to whether she was fired or not. Answering “yes” she was fired, she would then say, “no” she wasn’t fired, she just didn’t go back to her job as she didn’t have a car to drive. This style of answering would be the bedrock of her testimony, maddening to anyone listening.
Medrano asked Sulma if she thought she “got a pass” that night as she was not arrested for DUI, fleeing the scene of a hit and run, for having an outstanding bench warrant, or driving without a valid license. Sulma agreed she got a pass.
Throughout the cross-examination, Sulma became more and more confrontational and Medrano more argumentative, drawing objections from the prosecutors and rebukes from Judge Goldstein. Medrano hammered home that nowhere in the written transcript of her interview was there any reference to Deputy Fischer touching her butt or her vagina. Sulma acknowledged she added Deputy Fischer was rubbing her legs and touching her butt, and that she never wrote he touched her vagina.
Attorney Medrano moved on to Sulma’s failure to report for nine months. He raised Sulma was interviewed by the insurance company, but never mentioned anything about a sexual assault. Neither did she tell her parents. When asked why, she said, “It’s weird.” Then explaining, “You wouldn’t expect a sheriff to do something like that.” She said she was disgusted by it. Sulma testified she did tell her friends though. She told her friend Liz, who was surprised by it and asked if she reported it. She told her friend Adam who gave her a ride to work the next day. She told her boyfriend, who she dated for only two weeks, but he didn’t believe her. She saw Deputy Fischer another time when she was eating with some friends at a Hooters and watched him through the window as he along with other sheriff deputies arrested a woman. She told her friends that was the deputy who touched her, and they told her to call the police. She never did. After seeing the news about the 15 women accusing Deputy Fischer of sexual assault, and then another story that there were 16-18 women, Sulma began reading news articles “to find out more about the girls.”
When Medrano asked Sulma if she saw women suing for money damages, the real struggle began. Sulma became more and more confrontational as Medrano asked questions like, “Isn’t it true the reason you went to the district attorney was because you wanted to win big money?” Sulman answered “no” and that she met with a civil lawyer after her meeting with the district attorney. At long last, she said she “Hopes to get money.”
Nora G.: Excessive Phone Calls and Surprise Hotel Visits by Deputy Fischer
“Nora G” a Hispanic woman of forty-six and mother of 7 children sat perfectly poised in the witness stand, but before long, her voice would break with emotion as she relayed the turbulent events of October 5, 2017. At the time she lived with her husband, a man she has since divorced. The evening swiftly turned ugly when a heated argument resulted in her being kicked out of the house. With a voice rising with emotion, she described a household of built up tension as she suspected her husband was having a sexual relationship with her 19-year-old daughter (a child from a previous relationship). When she arrived home that night, she found her husband changing in front of the kids, something they had agreed was off limits. She also felt he had just had sex. A confrontation was inevitable. Her daughter soon called the police and Nora left with her 13-year-old daughter. Driving in a highly emotional state, she was pulled over by Deputy Fischer. He evaluated her for being under the influence, but finding she wasn’t, allowed her to drive away. Nora never expected to see him again.
Nora then took her daughter to Walmart so they could purchase some clothing and food as she had left her house without any provisions. Suddenly her cell phone rang, and it was Deputy Fischer. She had never given him her cell phone number, but he had somehow obtained it. He told her he was just checking up on her, and that her daughter would be okay. Then he said, “I usually don’t do this, but you’re gorgeous.” He told her he would check up on her later.
Deputy Fischer soon called again and asked her where she would be staying. Nora ended up at The Days Inn, although she never revealed this information to Fischer. As she was arriving at The Days Inn, Fischer called, and this time said, “I see you found a place to stay.” She looked over and saw his patrol car about 20 feet away. He told her he would let her get settled in and would check up on her later.
Nora went into the room with her daughter and helped her with her homework. As they were working, Deputy Fischer called and said he was at The Days Inn. He needed the key to enter the secured hallway, so she let him in. When asked by the prosecutor, “Why did you let him in?” she answered definitively, “because he was an officer.” He told her he wanted to see that her daughter was okay. She let him into the room, and after checking on her daughter, asked her, “Do you mind if I talk to your mom in the bathroom?” They went into the bathroom, and the door automatically shut as it was very heavy. Nora testified she “immediately felt scared.” Deputy Fischer reached over for a hug and told her she was “beautiful, gorgeous.” She didn’t reciprocate the hug. She felt he was a big man, which according to the arrest warrant Fischer is 6’ and 225 pounds. Nora is 5’3” and 128 pounds. After the hug, he walked out the door.
Around 9:00 p.m. she received a fifth call from Deputy Fischer. He again said he was checking up on them and asked, “You girls doing okay?” He told her he would let her get her daughter showered and he would call later. While Nora was taking a shower, she received a sixth call from Deputy Fischer. She had brought her cell phone into the bathroom as she was waiting for a call from her best friend as she needed to figure out where she would be staying in future days. Nora had been crying throughout the night and she needed her friend desperately. Answering the phone, it was Deputy Fischer. He wanted to come up to the room to give her a hug. She told him she was almost done with her shower and had to get dressed.
She soon received a seventh phone call from Deputy Fischer. He now informed her he was at her hotel door. She opened the door, testifying she “didn’t feel she had a choice.” She was clad in yoga pants and a t-shirt newly purchased from Walmart. Her daughter was asleep on the bed and Deputy Fischer motioned her to the bathroom. Once inside, he gave her a hug and told her, “You’re beautiful. You’re gorgeous. You feel good.” He began grinding himself on her behind, with one hand on her neck and one hand on her waist. Nora testified at the time she did not know if he would snap her neck or if she would die. She told herself that on the other side of the wall she had a 12-year-old daughter and would have a chance to raise her child if she did whatever Deputy Fischer wanted.
He picked her up and put her on the sink, where he spread her legs apart and touched her pubic zone under her yoga paints. All the while he was telling her she was “beautiful, gorgeous.” Suddenly he stopped and said he can’t be doing this or he’ll get in trouble. He said “don’t tell your friends about this. I could get in really big trouble.” Then he left. Nora broke down and cried but was “happy that I lived.”
Nora testified she never reported what had happened as she was scared, although she did tell her new boyfriend about it. In early June of 2018, she saw a news article about Deputy Fischer and other women and she “was relieved she wasn’t the only one.” She contacted the reporter who had written the article, and the reporter emailed her asking, “Did you contact the sheriff or an attorney?”
On cross-examination attorney Medrano brought out Nora was a recovering drug addict, a meth addict. He also brought out she hired attorney Dan Gilleon for a civil suit to seek money from the county and she did a television interview. Nora said Gilleon asked her to do the interview to “get the story out there,” and she did one with NBC.
Testimony of the Crime Analyst and District Attorney Investigator
Hailey McKammey, a crime and intelligence analyst with the Sheriff’s Crime Lab testified she examined Deputy Fischer’s telephone records through the auto vehicle locator on his patrol unit and the computer aided dispatch (CAD) system. The CAD is used by the sheriff’s dispatch and responding deputy. She also looked at Deputy Fischer’s personal cell phone records.
The records showed Deputy Fischer’s patrol car was logged at Tatjana’s residence on January 5, 2017, March 24, 2017, March 27, 2017, and at 9:52 p.m. on April 4, 2017. His canine was also logged in each time. For Sulma, records revealed a 911 call placed at 3:15 a.m. reporting the accident, and Deputy Fischer dispatched to pick up Sulma in Escondido. He arrived at 3:34 a.m., left Escondido at 4:32 a.m., and arrived back at the accident scene at 4:42 a.m. He left the accident scene with Sulma at 5:27 a.m., arriving back at her apartment at 5:35 a.m. He also gave the mileage as required when transporting a person of the opposite sex.
For Nora, no CAD record existed showing Deputy Fischer would follow up with her. Attorney Medrano brought out the dispatch records are summarized, so to know what was truly said, the actual recording would need to be obtained. There were 9 outgoing calls to Nora, all with the *67 engaged to block the caller ID. Calls were made at 7:34 p.m., 7:40 p.m., 9:08 p.m., 10:14 p.m., 11:12 p.m., 11:36 p.m., 11:43 p.m., midnight 01, and midnight 03.
Supervising district attorney investigator Jonathan Smith testified next. He had been a San Diego Police Officer for 25 years and found it “unusual” that Sulma was not arrested and no investigative reports were ever generated. Most of his time on the stand was spent on the written additions Sulma made to her transcript. Investigator Smith testified Sulma arrived with her civil attorney and spent 45-60 minutes reviewing the transcript. He agreed Sulma added Deputy Fischer touched her “between her legs.” When he asked her what that meant, she told him “he touched my vagina.” He agreed Sulma never wrote that onto the transcript. The conversation went unrecorded.
An Impassioned Argument from Attorney Manny Medrano
Attorney Medrano rose to the podium and with passion lacing his every word addressed three key points in the case. First, he said this was a case of “he said, she said” with no corroborating evidence. Second, the location of Deputy Fischer’s vehicle was not criminal. And third, the overarching theme pervading the case was the “extreme and powerful motivation” of the women to win as much money from the county as possible. The key, compelling motive to come forward so late in the game was the “money grab.”
Medrano stated there were “enormous inconsistencies” with the testimony of the women, such that they had either been coached or had learned from the extensive media coverage. He said Tatjana and Nora used identical language which could have been learned from news stories. He proclaimed the oral copulation Tatjana described simply did not occur. He addressed Tatjana moving out of her apartment, but what was “astounding” was she moved back to the apartment. This showed there was no fear or intimidation. Tatjana had “serious credibility issues” he continued, and what was startling to him was so many times she would start to cry, but there were no tears. He pounded the fact Tatjana, a business women of many decades, pretended she knows nothing about the money in the civil suit. “It leaves one breathless that she’s a credible witness!” Medrano exclaimed.
For Sulma, he said she was a “difficult and combative witness,” and when she was hit with hard cross-examination questions, she would just fall back on, “I don’t know.” The night in question she was “drunker than drunk” and he is in “stunned disbelief” she got a pass that night and was not arrested as she should have been. He asserted Sulma has a sense of obligation to the district attorney because she knows she got a pass and desires to remain in their good graces. Judge Goldstein noted that the one-year statute of limitation had run a couple of days ago, and the district attorney could have brought charges but chose not to. He did say it “makes his head boil” that there was a warrant “issue by this court” and she was not arrested that night. Medrano argued Sulma is biased because she wants money, and at last she finally admitted it.
Attorney Medrano stated in the tape-recorded interview with Sulma there was no mention of Fischer’s hand between her legs or touching her vagina. He said it wasn’t until she reviewed the transcript with her civil attorney present that she handwrote revisions, but still never wrote vagina. This was “a glaring light on fundamental inconsistency” and there are “great questions on her credibility,” Medrano thundered. Further it was a “massive oversight” not to record the second interview with Sulma.
Addressing Nora, he said she is a recovering meth addict and there were many inconsistencies in her story which “severely undermines her credibility.” He said the grinding went on for five minutes and would have awakened her daughter just on the other side of the door. It never happened!
Madrano concluded his argument by saying all three women had ample opportunity to report, but delayed upwards to a year, which undermines their credibility and makes no sense. In the end, they all just hope to win money.
Judge Goldstein Orders Fischer to Stand Trial
Judge Goldstein found the probable cause standard had been met and ordered Fischer must stand trial on all five counts. He said the women here were vulnerable, in no position to resist, and it was an abuse of position and trust. They were “down on their luck” and isolated. Having heard the initial case, he found Deputy Fischer showed a common scheme in both cases. In regard to the delay in reporting, Judge Goldstein said delay is not ordinary in a sex crime, but late reporting does occur for various reasons. In this case, the women did not report because of their fear “reporting would be hopeless.”
Judge Goldstein agreed credibility was important in the absence of forensics. He said there was huge prior inconsistent statements and blaring inconsistencies in the case. The district attorney should have recorded the interview with Sulma, and she is a problematic witness for both sides.
Fischer is ordered back to court on October 25, 2018, where it will be determined if the two cases will be consolidated into one. If the defense opposes the consolidation, the issue will be litigated. Medrano informed the court the defense needs “extensive investigation” before this case can ever go to trial.
To Read About the Initial Case Against Fischer and to See Media Photos Please Go To: