Timeline: Unfolding of the Nathan Fletcher scandal

Timeline: Unfolding of the Nathan Fletcher scandal

SAN DIEGO — Nathan Fletcher has been a prominent figure in the San Diego political sphere for nearly two decades, until last month when allegations of sexual assault were levied against him.

Fletcher was first elected to office in 2008 to represent the 75th California State Assembly district. The then-Republican was re-elected in 2010, before mounting a failed bid for the San Diego mayorship in 2011. 

During that campaign, Fletcher announced that he was leaving the Republican Party to become an independent, citing shifting values in the party away from his core values.

One day before then-Mayor Bob Filner’s resignation amid sexual harassment allegations, Fletcher, now a registered Democrat, launched a second unsuccessful mayoral campaign.

In 2018, he ran for office again, this time for the District 4 seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. The district is composed of nearly 700,000 residents in areas such as Clairemont, La Mesa, Balboa Park, Hillcrest and Spring Valley.

He handily won the seat, later assuming the role of Chair of the Board of Supervisors in 2021. He also was appointed Chairman of the Metropolitan Transit System Board of Directors. In 2022, Fletcher was successfully re-elected.

Before the allegations of sexual misconduct sent shockwaves through local politics, Fletcher seemed on track to move into higher office.

While San Diego is no stranger to political figures crumbling amid allegations of sexual assault or harassment, the tumultuous scandal facing Fletcher set off a series of major events in a span of days — from his abrupt resignation to a slew of statements, investigations and announcements about two local seats now in limbo.

Here’s a timeline of the events surrounding the allegations against Fletcher:

Monday, Feb. 6, 2023: On this date, Fletcher announced his bid for the California State Senate 39th district seat, currently held by President pro Tempore Toni Atkins. 

April 29, 2018 – San Diego, CA – Nathan Fletcher, candidate for San Diego County Board of Supervisors. (Photo by David Poller)

Atkins, who was elected to the District seat in 2018, will be reaching the state legislature term limit next year.

At that point, Fletcher was considered a front-runner for the seat: his camp said that he had already raised more than $1 million for the campaign and received a number of endorsements from prominent Democratic leaders across the county.

Among those who endorsed the Supervisor were San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and City Council President Sean Elo-Rivera.

Sunday, Mar. 26, 2023: Fletcher announced that he would be ending his State Senate campaign to go on medical leave for treatment of post-traumatic stress and alcohol abuse in a statement issued shortly after 8:30 p.m. on this date.

In the statement, the Supervisor said that he was struggling with issues from childhood and combat trauma: “Outwardly, I have projected calm and composure. Internally, I have been waging a struggle that only those closest to me have seen.”

Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2023: Several days later, Fletcher and his attorney released a statement on this date responding to “false allegations” from a lawsuit against the Supervisor about encounters he had with a former colleague. The filing had not yet been made public.

The statement announcing the potential lawsuit stated that he had consensual interactions with this individual and that they were suing him and his wife, former Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez.

At the time the statement was released around 8:30 a.m., Fletcher was already out of the state for his PTSD and alcohol abuse treatment.

The nearly 30-page complaint – later obtained by FOX 5 – filed by a former employee of MTS, Grecia Figueroa, detailed at least two alleged instances of sexual assault by the Supervisor in his role as chairman of the MTS board. MTS was also a named defendant in the complaint.

According to the filing, Fletcher and Figueroa were apparently attempting to settle the matter outside of court proceedings, but discussions fell apart earlier that week.

In the hours following the revelation of the sexual misconduct allegations, FOX 5 learned that two members of Fletcher’s staff, Director of Policy Emily Wier and Policy Advisor Eric Rafla-Yuan, resigned from their positions.

Local officials also began calling on the Supervisor to resign from his elected office. 

In a statement, MTS said that he had already quietly stepped down from his role as chairman of the board of directors the night before. San Diego City Councilmember Stephen Whitburn was appointed as his interim successor.

Shortly after 10:30 p.m., Fletcher stated on social media that he would be resigning from his position representing the fourth supervisorial district, effective at the end of his medical leave.

According to a statement from Fletcher’s office, that date would be roughly six weeks later on Monday, May 15 at 5 p.m.

Thursday, Mar. 30, 2023: Less than one day after the allegations of Fletcher’s sexual misconduct were publicized, FOX 5 learned of similar claims from a 27-year-old woman, who said that Fletcher harassed her while she was an intern for his non-profit.

The second accuser told FOX 5 that the harassment occurred in 2015, while she was a student at UC San Diego. After the incident, she said that she reported Fletcher to UCSD’s sexual assault center.

Representatives for Fletcher also denied these claims in a statement sent to FOX 5. “These accusations are false and clearly not true … This is just piling on to an existing media frenzy.”

Nonetheless, by Thursday, many local leaders denounced the alleged conduct of their colleague and expressed support for his decision to step down from elected office at the end of his medical leave. 

Chairwoman Nora Vargas, in one of her statements following Fletcher’s resignation announcement, said that the process and timeline for filling the future board vacancy will be determined during the Board of Supervisors meeting on May 2.

According to the county charter, the seat could either be filled by a Board of Supervisors appointment – permanent or interim – or through a special election.

Also on this day, MTS, who was a named party in Figueroa’s lawsuit, released a full statement on the complaint, stating that they would be pursuing an investigation into the claims as part of their response. The agency said that the law firm, Paul Plevin Quarles, would be spearheading the inquiry.

Friday, Mar. 31, 2023: MTS acting board chair Stephen Whitburn called for a second independent investigation by an outside counsel in response to Figueroa’s allegations against Fletcher, in a statement released on this date.

Whitburn, who is also a San Diego city councilmember, said that this probe would supplement the investigation by Paul Plevin Quarles contracted by MTS.

Kate Monroe, founder of VetComm, a local organization that works with veterans who have PTSD, is pictured on April 3, 2023. (KSWB)
Kate Monroe, founder of VetComm, a local organization that works with veterans who have PTSD, is pictured on April 3, 2023. (KSWB)

Monday, Apr. 3, 2023: A small group of veterans held a press conference on this date, calling for Fletcher’s immediate resignation.

“This behavior, coupled with you using PTSD as a way to explain away your alleged sexual assault, is a slap in the face to all veterans, including me,” Kate Monroe, founder of a local organization that works with veterans who have PTSD, said at the time of the conference.

Thursday, Apr. 6, 2023: The MTS board of directors held a special closed door meeting on this day, officially announcing that the governing body for the transportation agency intends to hire outside counsel for a supplemental investigation into the claims made by Figueroa.

Whitburn told FOX 5 after the meeting that the hiring of this independent counsel would help the agency “understand some of the questions that are being asked.” 

The investigation’s findings, he said, will be made public when it is complete, however, no timetable was given for how long the investigation was estimated to take.

Also on this day, Democratic Assemblymember Dr. Akilah Weber announced a run for the State Senate seat initially pursued by Fletcher.

Sunday, Apr. 9, 2023: Late Sunday night, Supervisor Jim Desmond announced that the Board of Supervisors would be holding an emergency meeting to vote on a resolution of “no confidence” for Fletcher later that week – a symbolic measure to pressure him to resign immediately.

The vote on the resolution was requested by Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Nora Vargas in a signed letter, citing that – “by his own statements” – Fletcher had not “upheld the principles of integrity expected in his position.”

San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chair Nora Vargas is seen on April 4, 2023. (KSWB)
San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chair Nora Vargas is seen on April 4, 2023. (KSWB)

While members of the Board initially supported Fletcher’s announcement to step down by the end of his medical leave, the move came amid increased public pressure for him to accelerate the timeline of his resignation, particularly given a key decision the board was expected to make: the hiring of a new Chief Operating Officer.

The CAO is one of the most important positions for the county, responsible for overseeing the implementation of policy directives from the Board of Supervisors and managing the county government’s daily operations.

Prior to the onset of the Fletcher scandal, reports say that the Board was close to hiring someone to fill the role after the current CAO’s planned retirement on March 31. The CAO’s employment was subsequently extended into the summer amid the allegations.

In statements released on April 9, Desmond noted the position’s impending vacancy as part of the sudden urgency for Fletcher to step down prior to May 15, the original effective date.

Tuesday, Apr. 11, 2023: The Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the resolution of no confidence against Fletcher during their emergency meeting. 

Fletcher was absent, given his out-of-state treatment for PTSD and alcohol abuse.

Wednesday, Apr. 12, 2023: A joint statement from Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Nora Vargas and Vice Chair Terra Lawson-Remer released on this date announced that the county would be halting the search for a new CAO until Fletcher’s seat is filled.

“… due to recent events, we must pause this process to ensure fair representation for ALL San Diego County residents,” the statement read.

While several months of closed-door meetings yielded several possible candidates for the position, Fletcher was described by a county spokesperson as a “powerful presence” during the proceedings.

The decision by the Board of Supervisors to hold off on the hiring of a new CAO would be an opportunity to reset without Fletcher’s vote.

A spokesperson from Vargas’ office said that whoever fills the District 4 seat next, even if it is an interim appointment, will have a say – and a vote – in the personnel decision.

Thursday, Apr. 20, 2023: MTS held a meeting on this date to elect a new chair for their board of directors, yet were unable to get a majority vote to approve one of the potential successors to Fletcher.

Discussions went on for more than an hour on the three candidates up for consideration: San Diego City Councilmember Stephen Whitburn, La Mesa Councilmember Patricia Dillard and El Cajon Councilmember Steve Globe.

Each candidate had to receive a two-thirds majority, which was about 10 “yes” votes, but all came up short.

According to MTS, Whitburn, who is currently acting as the interim chair, will keep his temporary leadership role until next month, when the board can take up the recommendation and nomination process over again.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023: San Diego City Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe announced plans to seek Fletcher’s county supervisor seat, regardless of how the county board chooses to handle the filling of the anticipated vacancy.

“I will continue to fight for my community to have a voice wherever it is needed,” Montgomery Steppe wrote on Twitter. “And right now, that need is at the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.

Montgomery Steppe was the second person to state intentions to pursue the District 4 supervisorial seat. Janessa Goldbeck was the first, who had already announced her candidacy in February under the assumption that Fletcher would win Toni Atkins’ State Senate seat.

What’s next?

The County Board of Supervisors is set to meet on May 2 to discuss the options for filling the District 4 supervisorial seat, should Fletcher resign as planned in the coming weeks. Depending on what the board decides at that meeting, the next person to assume the position could be determined as early as June.

On May 18, the MTS Board of Directors is scheduled to meet again. While the agenda has not been announced, it is expected that the governing body will be voting again on the next board chair.

Investigations by MTS are also underway into the details surrounding the allegations against Fletcher. While it is unknown how long it will take, Whitburn said the findings of the secondary outside counsel will be made public.

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