It has been a wild 24 hours in the case of a retired sheriff's detective reported missing hours before he was due in court to face charges of sexually assaulting a prostitute in Mission Valley while on duty.
Thomas John Sadler, 48, was scheduled to appear at the San Diego County Courthouse at 8:15 a.m. Thursday for a judge's preliminary hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to order Sadler to stand trial by jury.
The former detective was reported missing by his wife after being seen leaving his Santee home near Carlton Hills and Mast Boulevards around 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, San Diego County sheriff's Sgt. Brent Strahm said.
Adrianna Sadler told deputies her husband frequently takes walks but this time he left without his cell phone or keys, which was "highly unusual," according to Strahm.
She said her husband is depressed and was very concerned about statements he made to her around 2 a.m. the previous morning, which led her to believe that he might try to harm himself.
After the charges were filed last August, Sadler attempted suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in his parked motor home in the Alpine area, where passersby discovered a hose hooked up to the exhaust pipe.
Sadler showed up late to his preliminary hearing Thursday morning and, through his attorney Michael Berg, waived the hearing and stipulated to being bound over for trial on the five felony counts against him.
Sadler appeared briefly before Superior Court Judge Robert O’Neill, who set a May 18 trial date.
Berg said Sadler had taken a long walk and fallen asleep under an overhang near a shed in the back yard of a house that’s for sale, and returned home at daylight. He insisted that Sadler had no intention of harming himself.
"He certainly wasn't out trying to cause a scene," Berg said. "He didn't realize it. He made a very big mistake not notifying his wife. And everybody's concerned for him. We're just glad it turned out the way it did."
Berg told reporters that he decided to waive the preliminary hearing because prosecutor Jeff Dort told him that depending on how the alleged victim’s pretrial testimony turned out, a more serious charge of kidnapping -- which carries a life term -- could be filed.
According to Berg, the legal strategy of waiving the preliminary hearing avoids that possibility.
"Obviously, we dispute that this ever occurred," Berg noted. "They (prosecutors) wanted to see how it played out, how her testimony would've come out in the courtroom. They're not going to add that charge."
Berg said Sadler under a doctor’s care for severe stress, and is taking anti-depressants.
"It's humiliating; I think he's very embarrassed," Berg explained. "He's obviously ashamed and it's very difficult to come to court and see all his friends in law enforcement, and to know that he's not there with them."
Berg said Sadler’s 25-year career with the Sheriff’s Department ended with County Civil Service Commission proceedings that upheld a Sheriff's Department's termination order, Berg said. The former deputy is now drawing retirement benefits.
Dort declined comment on the defense’s legal strategy, and said only that Sadler’s disappearance was “concerning.”
He added that he sees no reason to request that Sadler’s $140,000 bail be raised or revoked.