Crime

Rape charges against Fresno firefighter dismissed

Fresno firefighter Jeffrey Sanchez, right, leaves a courtroom with his lawyer, Jeffrey Hammerschmidt, after prosecutors dismissed rape charges against Sanchez on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015.
Fresno firefighter Jeffrey Sanchez, right, leaves a courtroom with his lawyer, Jeffrey Hammerschmidt, after prosecutors dismissed rape charges against Sanchez on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015. plopez@fresnobee.com

Fresno firefighter Jeffrey Sanchez is adamant that he is innocent of raping a 19-year-old Fresno State student inside his home.

Thursday, the District Attorney’s Office dismissed the charges against him.

“It’s been a nightmare,” Sanchez told reporters after charges of rape, forcible oral copulation and sexual penetration were dismissed in Fresno County Superior Court. “Stressful for me and my family.”

Prosecutors declined to explain the dismissal, other than to say they have a duty to discard charges that aren’t supported by evidence.

“The charges were dismissed without prejudice, which means that they can be refiled at a later time if warranted,” District Attorney Lisa A. Smittcamp said in a news release.

But Sanchez’s lawyer, Jeff Hammerschmidt, said the case against Sanchez likely will be shelved forever because the alleged victim has credibility problems.

It’s the right thing to do. Justice prevailed.

Defense attorney Jeff Hammerschmidt

Hammerschmidt declined to elaborate: “We want to take the high road on this.” But had the case gone to trial as scheduled Monday, those details about the alleged victim would have been revealed, he said.

Sanchez, 37, met the woman at a Clovis bar on the night of Dec. 18 while out with his friends. He was arrested Jan. 19 after the woman told Fresno County sheriff’s detectives he had sex with her against her will.

Sanchez, a firefighter for eight years, has contended the sexual relations were consensual.

At a hearing in May, sheriff’s detective Virginia Rodriguez laid out the case against Sanchez:

The alleged victim, identified as Jane Doe, and a sorority sister went to Martin’s Bar in Old Town Clovis, where they met Sanchez and his friends, to celebrate the end of final exams.

Jane said she used a fake ID to get into the bar, told Sanchez she was 22 and gave him a false name because she was not interested in him, Rodriguez testified.

The group – Jane Doe, her friend, Sanchez, two of his friends and one of their girlfriends – then left the bar and drove to Sanchez’s home on South Fowler Avenue near Sunnyside Country Club in southeast Fresno. Jane Doe told sheriff’s deputies she was reluctant to go to Sanchez’s home, but did so because she didn’t want to leave her sorority sister, who was interested in one of Sanchez’s friends.

A sheriff’s detective’s affidavit says Jane Doe consumed a mix of beer and hard liquor and smoked marijuana that night. The woman alleges Sanchez drugged her, although results from a sexual assault test done the following day showed no signs of date-rape drugs.

Sanchez has remained employed with the Fresno Fire Department, Hammerschmidt said.

Outside court Thursday, Sanchez said it’s a horrible feeling to be falsely accused. He thanked his family, friends and co-workers for believing in him.

He and Hammerschmidt also said they harbored no ill will toward the Sheriff’s Office for arresting Sanchez. “Law enforcement was just doing its job,” Hammerschmidt said.

Hammerschmidt praised prosecutor Elena Landau for dismissing the case. Too many times, Hammerschmidt said, prosecutors take a case to trial knowing they have insufficient evidence.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Hammerschmidt said. “Justice prevailed.”

Sanchez agreed: “I feel relieved that the court system got this right.”

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts

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