EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article includes a victim’s sexual assault allegations based on an interview with The Coast News and a claim filed with the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. Richard Timothy Fischer is scheduled for trial on Oct. 25.
On the morning of Saturday, Sept. 29, skywriters had a message for San Diego: “OK ONLY IF WE LET THEM.”
The statement, written high above the crowds gathered for the 2018 Miramar Air Show, was a powerful declaration encouraging victims of sexual assault and discrimination to speak their truth.
And that’s exactly what at least 20 women across North County have done after coming forward with harrowing tales of rampant sexual abuse at the hands of San Diego County Sheriff’s Deputy Richard Timothy Fischer.
Each allegation shares familiar threads of abject terror, fear of reprisal and the shame of not being believed.
The following is a victim’s first-hand account and allegations based on interviews and a claim filed with the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.
In the early morning hours of June 19, Shelly Howell, 52, had just finished her shift at a Shell Gas Station in Escondido and returned to her friend’s house who she was living with in Vista.
Upon returning home, Howell got into an argument with her boyfriend and packed up her belongings to go stay with her daughter. Howell, who was driving on a suspended license, chose to take the backroads and ended up at a four-way stop at the corner of Cypress Drive and Monte Vista Drive. As she approached the intersection, Howell noticed the unmistakable outline of a police cruiser parked on the side of the road.
Reluctantly, Howell said she kept driving.
“I had no choice but to go past him and continue my route,”’ Howell told The Coast News.
Flanked by two deputies in a prisoner holding box at the Vista Courthouse, San Diego Sheriff Deputy Richard Fischer made his first court appearance since he was arrested for the second time on additional charges that he engaged in sexual misconduct while on duty. pic.twitter.com/z9MMe5IgKX
— John Gibbins (@JohnGibbinsSDUT) August 17, 2018
Howell made a left onto Monte Vista and noticed the squad car, as if anticipating her next move, lit her up. Howell said she eventually pulled over at the bottom of a steep driveway and noticed that she couldn’t see the house from the road.
A sheriff’s deputy approached the vehicle, asked for her license and when he discovered it was suspended, asked her to step out of the vehicle. The deputy, who Howell would later identify as Fischer, then led her between their two cars and out of the bright lights of the patrol car’s high-beams.
At this point, Howell claims that Fischer asked her to put her hands behind her back and then held her hands there, interlocking his fingers with hers.
“I apologize if it seems like I’m holding your hands, but you’re just so hot,” Fischer said, according to the complaint.
Howell wasn’t sure if she had heard him right and assured herself that she must be mistaken.
But Howell said Fischer quickly removed all doubt when he reached his hands into her front and back pockets several times, rubbing and touching her private areas as he performed his “search.”
“I like the shape of your body,” Fischer said, according to Howell.
Speechless, Howell froze as she began to wrap her mind around what was happening.
Fischer told her he wasn’t going to arrest her but that she needed to move her vehicle. According to Howell, Fischer suggested she park her car at a nearby school parking lot, “escorted” her to the area and once again appeared at her driver’s side window.
“It was the most uncomfortable moment I’ve ever had in my entire life,” Howell said. “If I say ‘no,’ am I going to jail? If I say ‘yes,’ what’s going to happen? How am I going to get out of this?”
Howell recalled trying to lighten the conversation and mentioned that she had once worked for the state, just like Fischer, thinking that somehow this new bit of information would prevent him from making any further unwanted sexual advances.
But she said Fischer didn’t appear interested and pointed to a dark corner of the empty lot, suggesting she follow him to go “make out.” Howell declined the offer.
Howell watched as the officer turned his head, listening to his shoulder radio as it crackled a request for backup. The attack was over and Howell was left to pick up the pieces alone, and in the dark corner of a school parking lot.
“I went into a state of anxiety,” Howell said. “I definitely don’t want to drive alone. It’s put a complete halt on my life.”
And like so many victims of sexual assault, Howell hesitated to report the incident to police. If her alleged attacker was a peace officer, who could she trust?
Almost a million dollars. That’s the amount that the county has paid out to victims to settle four civil claims filed by alleged victims of Deputy Richard Fischer. #SB1421 will shed light on police misconduct like this. https://t.co/bRnI8nigiA
— San Diego ACLU (@sdACLU) May 25, 2018
Six months later, Howell saw an interview with three of Fischer’s alleged victims. Their complaints were eerily similar to her own. And then she saw a picture of her attacker’s face.
At that point, Howell said she was motivated to speak up.
“The way those women were talking, they didn’t want their faces shown and they seemed unsure of what had happened,” Howell said. “But it’s not their fault and it did happen, because it happened to me, too. I wanted to let everyone know that those ladies were telling the truth.”
By December, she had reached out to San Diego attorney Dan Gilleon, who is currently representing several of Fischer’s alleged victims, and has filed a $6 million lawsuit against the county of San Diego.
Howell is convinced that Fischer’s alleged spree could have been prevented if law enforcement officials had responded swiftly to information they had received two years earlier.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department issued a statement saying they had “initiated concurrent administrative and criminal investigations immediately upon learning of the first allegation which was received in late 2017,” adding that the “department did not receive a complaint regarding these allegations prior to this.”
But Howell isn’t buying it.
“Somebody had to have known,” Howell said. “(Law enforcement) was notified by a letter from a victim back in 2016, explaining everything he did and they swept in under the rug. If they would have investigated when they first had knowledge, nothing would have happened to any of us.”
Fischer was recently booked on five new charges in lieu of $2 million bail, facing a total of 20 criminal counts of sexual misconduct involving 15 women while on duty, including forced oral copulation, sexual battery and false imprisonment.
After a Sept. 11 preliminary hearing, Fischer’s attorney Manny Madrano told media outlets, “We continue to this very day to vigorously deny and dispute these charges. They are false, they are untrue. Our investigation of the alleged victims in this case continues. We are discovering credibility issues with the various victims in this case, which include reporting this to law enforcement many, many months after the allegation. Some of these alleged victims have had brushes with the law and, at the end of the day, we feel that the motivation for many of these alleged victims is to try to get a monetary reward because they have filed civil claims.”
The defendant, a six-year law enforcement veteran, has also called the claims “hurtful” and “disheartening,” according to previous news reports.
“This guy is a complete predator and he’s growing into a monster,” Howell said.
For the latest on the Richard Fischer case, please see the following article by City News Service:
Trial ordered for deputy accused of sexually assaulting women
By Kelly Wheeler
VISTA — A San Diego County sheriff’s deputy facing charges that he groped and sexually assaulted three women last year after meeting them on patrol was ordered Oct. 3 to stand trial on five felony counts, including forcible oral copulation.
The five latest charges against 32-year-old Richard Fischer were filed six months after he was charged with sexual battery, assault and battery by an officer and false imprisonment involving 13 women.
Fischer faces more than 25 years in prison if convicted of all charges. He has emphatically denied the allegations.
Defense attorney Manny Medrano has said the case boils down to a “he-said-she-said” situation.
After a three-day preliminary hearing, Vista Judge Daniel Goldstein ruled that enough evidence was presented for Fischer to stand trial on the five new charges.
A 51-year-old businesswoman testified that Fischer first responded to a 911 call at her living facility for people with mental health issues about 6 p.m. Dec. 31, 2016. She said Fischer and his partner told her the matter had been resolved and started to leave.
But Fischer came back in and said “Can I have a hug?” the woman testified.
Since it was New Year’s Eve, “I didn’t see any harm,” the witness testified.
She said Fischer told her she was beautiful, then left.
The mother of three testified that Fischer returned in March 2017, coming into her garage which she used as an office for her business. The woman said Fischer asked to talk privately, told her that he wasn’t married and asked for another hug.
“He was flirtatious,” the witness testified, saying she told Fischer the hug was not appropriate.
The woman said Fischer returned sometime between March 27 and April 4 of last year as she was getting ready for bed.
“He said he wanted to talk to me about something important,” she testified.
The woman said she let Fischer in, and he pushed her onto her bed and forced her to perform a sex act on him.
A 25-year-old woman testified that Fischer rubbed her thighs and put his hand between her legs as she sat in the back of his patrol car in shorts after a drunken driving crash into parked cars in September 2017.
A 46-year-old woman testified that Fischer groped her inside a motel room, where she had gone with her daughter after an argument at home.
At least 20 women have filed lawsuits against Fischer in civil court.
He will be back in court on the criminal case on Oct. 25.