A veteran sheriff's detective was convicted Monday of picking up a prostitute and assaulting her in a Mission Valley parking lot, but he was acquitted of sexually assaulting the woman.
Thomas John Sadler, 49, was convicted of felony assault and battery by a peace officer, along with misdemeanor assault and false imprisonment. He could receive a sentence ranging from probation on the low end to three years in prison on April 14.
The defendant -- on unpaid administrative leave from the sheriff's department -- was acquitted of felony charges of sexual battery by restraint, sexual battery and false imprisonment.
Two charges of accessing a computer to defraud were dismissed by the judge before the case went to the jury.
Sadler stared straight ahead as a courtroom clerk read the verdicts. The 20-year veteran was immediately ordered into custody by Judge Michael Smyth.
Jurors, who did not want to be interviewed, deliberated about two full days before reaching their decision.
"I'm pleased, largely, with the verdict, because originally Mr. Sadler had been charged with five felony counts. He was convicted of only one," said defense attorney Mary Ellen Attridge, the senior supervising attorney for the Office of the Alternate Public Defender.
"I would have preferred, of course, that he be completely exonerated of all, but I think being found not guilty of four out of five is pretty good," she said.
Attridge said Sadler's sentencing range is better now than with a plea bargain offered by prosecutors. She said Sadler will not have to register for life as a sex offender.
"He was found not guilty of anything sexually oriented in any way, and so I think that overall it is an acceptable verdict, although I would have preferred he'd been found not guilty of everything," Attridge told reporters outside court.
Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey Dort said in his closing argument that Sadler had a plan to sexually assault the prostitute during a search for drugs but ran into a problem when he didn't find any.
Sadler assaulted the prostitute just as he had sexually assaulted four other women during searches dating back to 2001, the prosecutor told jurors.
But Attridge said the prostitute got into Sadler's unmarked car on El Cajon Boulevard on her own about 11 a.m. on Feb. 6, 2008.
"When she smiled and he smiled back, she thought of money," Attridge said.
Sadler, "like a fool," drove to a Mission Valley parking lot but changed his mind about having sex with the prostitute, Attridge said.
"He thought, 'What in God's name am I doing?'" his attorney said.
Sadler testified that he thought of his wife of 22 years and didn't want to go through with his original plan.
But Dort told the jury that Sadler had a history of pulling over women, searching them for drugs with no one around and touching them inappropriately.
The prosecutor told the jury the defendant was "a rogue cop" who thought he was above the law. Sadler planned to search the prostitute and sexually assault her "because he had gotten away with it before," Dort said.
Attridge said the prosecution was relying on "unreliable" drug addicts, felons and prostitutes to convict a veteran deputy sheriff for something that "did not occur."
The attorney said Sadler admitted to making very poor choices but did not sexually assault the prostitute, who was on probation at the time.
Attridge said the prostitute became irritated when Sadler showed his badge and ordered her out of the car in the Mission Valley parking lot.
Sadler took the woman's cell phone away when she tried to take a picture of his license plate, Attridge said.
"This was a business deal gone bad by a foolish middle-age man and a very sad young woman with a very dicey job," Attridge told the jury.
All Previous Post