SAN DIEGO —
Richard Fischer walked out of jail last week, an electronic bracelet fastened to his ankle, but San Diego County taxpayers are still paying for the sins of the former sheriff’s deputy.
County officials have now paid out cash settlements to plaintiffs in at least 21 separate civil lawsuits filed by women who say he sexually assaulted, groped, fondled and otherwise abused them while in uniform and on duty.
The most recent settlements push the total amount paid to Fischer’s victims to nearly $10 million — not including the more than $1 million the county paid to the private attorney defending Fischer in the civil litigation.
Beyond the blight on the county treasury and the emotional toll paid by Fischer’s victims, the sheer number of claims and the response to them as they piled up have fomented distrust.
Asked why Fischer had been released earlier than expected, sheriff’s officials said Friday, two days after his release, that he had qualified for a specialized monitoring program.
Meanwhile, the lawyers defending the spate of civil cases have continued to decline to discuss why they waited years to agree to settlements.
Dan Gilleon, the San Diego attorney who represented most of the women victimized by the disgraced deputy, said last week that he settled three more cases in recent days, including two for more than $1 million each.
He, like several of his clients, criticized county lawyers for how long they took to settle the lawsuits, forcing Fischer’s victims to wait years for compensation and closure.
“After five years of kicking the can down the road, the county of San Diego finally decided that engaging in reasonable settlement discussions might be the reasonable thing to do, just as its former deputy was being released from prison,” Gilleon said.
County officials declined to comment on the payments to resolve the Fischer allegations.
Joseph Kutyla, the private attorney hired by San Diego County to defend the civil claims brought by the women, similarly did not respond to a request for comment.
Kutyla was paid at least $1.1 million in public funds over recent years for his work on the Fischer lawsuits.
The earliest reports about Fischer’s behavior were handled internally by Sheriff’s Department officials.
But the allegations burst into public view in 2017, when Gilleon began filing legal claims against San Diego County and its sheriff’s department. Claims are documents that must be filed — and then rejected — before a government agency can be sued in Superior Court.
The publicity resulting from the early claims sparked a barrage of new complaints from women who reported similar experiences after encountering Fischer.
His alleged behavior was consistent among many of the plaintiffs, who had no relationship with one another.
For many, Fischer showed up at their homes after they had reported a crime or called for help, appeared sympathetic to the women and then requested a hug.
One woman accused Fischer of forcing her to perform oral sex; others said he returned to their homes weeks and months later to taunt and terrorize them.
In other cases, he pulled over women driving alone, then sexually assaulted them once they parked in a dark or remote area. One woman accused Fischer of groping her after he stopped while transporting her to the Las Colinas women’s jail in Santee.
While the allegations piled up, the women accused then-Sheriff Bill Gore of protecting his deputy by slow-walking the department investigation.
Gore eventually placed Fischer on administrative leave and referred his investigators’ findings to the District Attorney’s Office for criminal charges. In 2018, Fischer was fired and soon charged with 14 crimes, including sexual battery, assault and battery and false imprisonment.
The civil cases were put on hold while the criminal allegations played out in court. Fischer denied all charges and insisted he would be vindicated at trial.
“Richard Fischer has dedicated his entire adult life to public service,” his defense lawyer said at the time. “These allegations are wholly inconsistent with who Mr. Fischer is. He categorically denies each of the allegations and looks forward to clearing his name.”
But hours before he was scheduled to go to trial, Fischer pleaded guilty to seven charges related to sexual misconduct involving 16 women while on the job. He had faced 20 counts and up to 14 years in prison but received a much lighter sentence.
Fischer was not required to register as a sex offender and received 44 months in custody — time he was able to serve in county jail until he was released five months later.
Following public outrage at the unannounced release in 2020, prosecutors asked to recalculate the credits applied to Fischer’s sentence. He was returned to jail, released again and returned to custody once more before his formal release last week.
At least one woman who was victimized by Fischer was livid last week when she learned he had just been let out of jail.
“I am horrified to receive the news of his release from jail yet again,” said the woman, who asked not be identified publicly. “How does this happen? He wasn’t supposed to be released until December.”
The woman, who was identified in court papers as D.A., accepted a $1.25-million settlement in recent weeks.
Sheriff’s spokesperson Lt. David LaDieu said Fischer was treated like any convicted felon.
He was released on parole to home detention under what’s called an alternative-custody program available to everyone in sheriff’s custody, LaDieu said by email.
“We are sorry for any confusion or fear this may have created for the victims and those affected by the actions of Mr. Fischer,” LaDieu said. “We work hard to inform individuals and victims of crimes of notification systems that are available regarding releases of suspects.”
Another case that settled in recent weeks was filed by a woman identified by her initials, N.G.
The woman, who settled her claim for $1.1 million, accused Fischer of repeatedly stalking her after responding to a domestic dispute reported by her ex-husband. The deputy called her repeatedly, showed up at her motel and assaulted her, the claim stated.
Fischer returned later, talked his way inside and sexually assaulted her, she alleged.
“Fischer grabbed her hands and put them behind her back. Fischer held both of her hands with one of his hands,” the claim added. The complaint then detailed a sexual assault, accusing the uniformed deputy of pulling down the woman’s pants and groping her genitals.
“N.G. was terrified,” her attorneys wrote. “She didn’t want Fischer to see her nervous because she didn’t want Fischer to get mad and hurt her.”
The allegations against Fischer were not the only claims lodged against deputies under former Sheriff Gore .
Two years ago, a former deputy was convicted of rape, lewd acts on a child and other charges. Also in 2021, another deputy was sentenced to prison for committing illegal sex acts on a 14-year-old girl.
In 2019, a deputy was accused of propositioning a woman who was nine months pregnant while she was in sheriff’s custody. The year before that, a deputy was caught on a security video grabbing the backside of a teen girl at a fast-food restaurant.
Former Asst. Sheriff Rich Miller was allowed to retire in 2018 after twice being accused of sexually harassing department workers.
Miller collected $194,541 in retirement pay last year, according to the Transparent California database of public salaries and pensions.