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Sheriff’s Deputy Assault Victims Say Plea Deal Is Not Justice Served

Sheriff's Deputy Richard Fischer is escorted in handcuffs from his arraignmen...

Photo by Kris Arciaga

Above: Sheriff's Deputy Richard Fischer is escorted in handcuffs from his arraignment at the San Diego Superior Court in Vista, Ca., Feb. 22, 2018.

In announcing the plea deal for a former Sheriff's deputy accused of assaulting more than a dozen women, District Attorney Summer Stephan said an overwhelming majority of the victims supported the deal.

But multiple women who spoke to KPBS said they were surprised by the deal and are upset with some of its terms.

Listen to this story by Claire Trageser.

RELATED: Ex-Deputy Richard Fischer Pleads Guilty In Sexual Assault Trial

Fischer was initially charged with 20 criminal counts that included assault, burglary, forced oral sex and sexual battery. But his plea deal with the DA did not include the two sex crime charges he faced.

Instead, he pleaded to four felony assaults, three misdemeanor assaults and misdemeanor false imprisonment.

At most, Fischer could face five years in prison. There’s also a chance he won’t serve any prison time.

At Fischer's sentencing in early December, Judge Daniel Goldstein will decide whether he has to register as a sex offender. Outside defense attorneys told KPBS that Fischer caught "a big break" with his sex offender registration being at the judge’s discretion.

T.D.'s story

One woman, who asked that KPBS only identify her by her initials T.D., said she first encountered Fischer in on New Year's Eve in 2016 when he was called to her home to check on her welfare. Over the next few months, he returned multiple times and would force her to kiss and hug him. She was not born in the United States and, because she didn’t understand the laws here, was afraid to report Fischer.

Then that April she said Fischer forced her to perform oral sex on him.

Reported by Claire Trageser , Video by Matthew Bowler

"He takes my right wrist and takes me in my bedroom, sits me on the bed and he opened his zipper and was forcing my head," she said. "I don't know how long it was, two minutes, five minutes, one minute, I cannot know exactly."

T.D. said she was in touch with DA prosecutors leading up to Fischer's plea deal and had the impression that Fischer would plead guilty to forced oral sex. But that charge was dropped in the final deal announced the morning Fischer's trial was scheduled to begin.

RELATED: San Diego Sheriff’s Deputy Accusers Describe Sexual Misconduct Allegations

"If somebody is guilty of some charge, they need to be guilty, they need to be charged with that," she said. "I think anybody who makes a mistake, who makes a plea bargain, they need to plead to what they've done."

Her experience has made her question whether the justice system works.

"My desire is for a new generation of females to be safe and not to be scared to tell the truth," she said.

Details of the plea deal

Fischer's defense attorney Gretchen von Helms told KPBS that based on witness declarations and other court documents, the majority of the victims wanted a plea deal. She said Judge Goldstein was "very clear" during pretrial negotiations that there could be no plea deal unless TD’s case was dismissed. By law, charges involving forced sex can’t be included in plea bargains.

Von Helms said she couldn't talk further about the deal because the judge has imposed a gag order in the case until after sentencing.

She added that Fischer has extended "a sincere apology" to the victims in court. However, T.D. told KPBS she was in court and only heard Fischer's lawyer, not Fischer, apologize.

District Attorney Summer Stephan declined an interview request, citing the pending case and the court gag order.

She sent a press release after the deal saying it was "in accordance with the wishes of the overwhelming number of victims who agree it is a just and appropriate resolution that holds the defendant accountable for his crimes."

But Stephan’s office would not respond to specific questions from KPBS regarding how many victims approved of the deal, whether they were told of it in advance and why they agreed to not include the sex charges.

He said his office followed Marsy's Law, a California law guaranteeing crime victims "reasonable notice of and to reasonably confer with the prosecuting agency," when a plea deal is on the table.

Photo by Claire Trageser

A San Diego County Sheriff's cruiser in this undated photo.

'A big break'

Still looming large in the case is the question of whether Fischer will have to register as a sex offender.

Michael Crowley, a criminal defense attorney not involved in the case, said the fact that Judge Goldstein will make that decision is "a big break."

"The defense attorney did a good job on getting down to that point," Crowley said. "Getting him to the point of where it is discretionary to have the sex registration, that the judge will make that decision based on psychological reports, that's huge."

He said if the sex charges were included in what Fischer pleaded to, sexual offender registration would have been mandatory. This is often a sticking point in plea deals because having to register can be like a life sentence, Crowley added.

Kate Chatfield, a lawyer who works on legislation and policy at The Justice Collaborative, a criminal justice reform advocacy organization, said it’s likely the DA gave Fischer a good deal because he was a Sheriff's deputy.

Chatfield said now all future deals should be equivalent to Fischer's.

"There can't be two systems of justice because by definition that's not justice," she said. "The issue is the next defendant that comes forward facing similar allegations, the DA should abide by this ceiling they have set for serious or violent felonies."

"If this is what you're offering to a law enforcement officer, then to offer more time to someone who's black or poor or not in law enforcement would be injustice," she added.

K.P.'s story

Another woman, who asked to only be identified by her initials K.P., also believed Fischer would be pleading guilty to sexual assault for what he did to T.D. and another woman.

Like T.D., she was in communication with the D.A.'s office before the deal and was surprised when the charges were read in court.

"When they read it off and it was over, I looked around and was like, 'that's it?" she said.

K.P. said she thinks Fischer got a break because he was a law enforcement officer.

"He should be punished more severely, he's in a position of authority over people," she said. "I know damn well if it was just some regular person, there's no possible way he would have been eligible for a plea deal."

Fischer will be sentenced in early December. Many of his accusers are also suing him and the Sheriff's Department in civil lawsuits.

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Aired: September 19, 2019 | Transcript

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