Troubled Deputy Threatens to Leap Off Bridge

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A nine-year San Diego County sheriff's deputy who believed he was being unfairly harassed by his superiors announced to dispatchers Friday that he was going to jump off the Coronado Bridge, but he surrendered to authorities atop the bridge 45 minutes later.

The 2-mile span was sealed off as Deputy Edward H. Fletcher, in uniform, wandered along the railings, muttering to himself about the department that had once tried to fire him and was now investigating him for alleged discrepancies in his payroll forms, authorities said.

"He was angry and agitated against the department," sheriff's spokesman Dan Greenblat said. "He feels he's being persecuted."

Fletcher, a member of the department's transportation division, drove to the bridge in a prisoner van. At about noon he broadcast over the communications system his intention to jump. Two deputies drove to the scene after hearing the dispatch, the Sheriff's Department said.

Fletcher continued to rant about the department while patrol cars from the Sheriff's Department, San Diego Police Department, Coronado Police Department, California Highway Patrol and Harbor Police filled the bridge.

Half an hour after Fletcher first arrived, he got back in the van and drove about 1,000 feet closer to Coronado before stopping and getting out again.

Law enforcement officials, led by Coronado Police Lt. John DeAngelis, who was once Fletcher's boss, asked him to surrender and to give up his gun. Fletcher said he wanted to drive off but was told he could not. When ordered to give up his gun, Fletcher threw it into the bay and turned himself in.

"He was pretty irrational," DeAngelis said. "I've never seen him that upset. It was hard to talk to him, and he wouldn't let me get close. He was talking about the fact that he thinks he's been harassed. That internal affairs and the supervisors were on him. He said he didn't want them to (harass) him again."

Although he meandered near the bridge railing, Fletcher never climbed on the ledge or came close to jumping, DeAngelis said.

No charges will be filed against the 30-year-old Fletcher, who was taken to Mesa Vista Hospital for psychiatric evaluation.

Fletcher joined the department in December, 1983, and was assigned to County Jail in Chula Vista, where he worked until March, 1988, when he was sent to the Santee patrol station. In August, 1987, a patrol car Fletcher was driving hit and injured a 7-year-old boy.

The department fired Fletcher in June, 1988, for allegedly striking Darrel Denniston, 27, with a flashlight, causing an injury that required 21 stitches.

According to department records, Fletcher was in high-speed pursuit of Denniston through Lakeside in November, 1987 that ended when Denniston's motorcycle hit a chain-link fence.

Department administrators charged that Fletcher never notified the California Highway Patrol of the accident, as required, nor did he have Denniston sign the proper forms after the suspect refused medical help.

Though Denniston did not resist arrest, Fletcher struck him "for no justification," the department said.

The county's Civil Service Commission overturned Fletcher's dismissal, deciding that Denniston sustained injuries from the crash, not from blows, that the CHP notification requirement is never enforced, and that Fletcher asked Denniston if he wanted medical help, which was sufficient.

Fletcher was reinstated in October, 1988, but was told that he would work at a desk job and would have no police powers. He filed a $500,000 claim with the county and contended that the department fired him to avoid paying a disability benefit.

Fletcher applied for disability and did not work between October, 1988 and February, 1989, until a doctor allowed him to return to his job.

From February until May, 1989, he was placed on administrative assignment. After a court judgment, the department was forced to return his peace officer status, and he was assigned to the transportation division.

But Fletcher was facing new problems this week. He was under an internal affairs investigation into allegations that he was claiming hours on his payroll sheet that he never worked, a source within the department said. And he was facing a disciplinary transfer that was to have begun Monday.

"This is someone the department is not proud of," said the source. "He was clearly heading for the rocks. He wasn't doing well and wasn't ever going to do well."

Fletcher felt "that, since he beat the department once, they were trying that much harder to get him," DeAngelis said. "I don't know whether he's right or wrong about what's happened, but I can understand the stress of internal affairs looking at you."

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