New employer concerned about SLO police chief’s past

September 21, 2020

Chief Deanna Cantrell


Outgoing San Luis Obispo Police Chief Deanna Cantrell has not yet begun her job as the top cop of Fairfield, and city council members are already calling into question her record, specifically voicing concerns over the chief’s actions after she left her gun in a restaurant bathroom.

Cantrell has served as the city of SLO’s police chief since Jan. 2016. Last month, Cantrell announced she would be departing San Luis Obispo for the chief position at the Fairfield Police Department.

During a Sept. 15 Fairfield City Council meeting, two councilwomen raised concerns about Cantrell. Vice Mayor Pam Bertani and Councilwoman Catherine Moy then gave interviews to the Daily Republic in which they said they have received a lot of calls from city residents about Cantrell lost her gun and the damage done to a man misidentified as finding the gun.

Moy wants Cantrell to explain how her gun was retrieved and whether police officers may have infringed upon civil rights when they targeted an individual who did not match the description of the suspect.

“My concern is the arrest of a person who did not at all look like the person who they believed took (the gun), and they got him for something else,” Moy told the Daily Republic. “I believe that is a violation of his civil rights.”

At about noon on July 10, 2019, Cantrell left her pistol, a Glock with a 6-round magazine, on a toilet paper holder in the bathroom of El Pollo Loco in San Luis Obispo. A short time later, Cantrell realized she did not have her weapon and returned to the restaurant bathroom. The pistol was not there.

Chief Deanna Cantrell at El Pollo Loco

Cantrell then claimed that she immediately reported her gun stolen, but several officers said her attempt to coverup the theft of her gun risked officer safety and led to the search of the home of a man incorrectly identified as the person suspected of taking the chief’s gun.

Typically, after a loaded police firearm is stolen, a be on the lookout (BOLO) is put out to area law enforcement, not only to help quickly recover the stolen weapon, but also to protect officer and public safety.

However, for the first two hours, Cantrell conducted the investigation into her stolen gun without reporting the theft. It would be more than eight hours before a BOLO was issued.

A surveillance video showed a clean shaven man entering the restaurant bathroom after Cantrell left. After receiving a tip that the man in the video resembled Cheyne Orndoff, police descended on Orndoff’s home, even though he looked nothing like the suspect. Orndoff had a full beard and mustache.

Without a warrant, police searched Orndoff’s home, put his daughters, then 7 and 9, in foster care and arrested him for child neglect because of a dirty house and paraphernalia they found in his locked bedroom.

Records, including recordings of phone conversations, show mistakes, assumptions and unwillingness on the part of police to accept they had not found the man who took Cantrell’s pistol. Nonetheless, Orndoff and his wife are still battling felony charges in the case.

In addition to facing scrutiny for her handling of the lost gun incident, Cantrell has received criticism from community members in Fairfield over the July 2020 arrest of SLO protest leader Tianna Arata. One critic accused Cantrell of resisting the social justice movement.

SLOPD officers arrested Arata after she led approximately 300 protesters onto Highway 101, blocking all lanes in both directions for nearly an hour. In one incident on the highway, a protester threw a skateboard at the back window of a car. The window shattered, with pieces landing on a 4-year-old boy, who was unharmed. Protesters claim the driver had hit a protester.

Fairfield Vice Mayor Bertani said the Bay Area city was aware of the gun incident when Cantrell was being interviewed for the police chief position. However, Bertani, as well as Councilwoman Moy, said they were not contacted by city management about their views on Cantrell’s hire.

Mayor Harry Price said he was consulted on the position by City Manager Stefan Chatwin, who hired Cantrell.

Chatwin oversaw a hiring process that included a community panel, a professional panel of police chiefs around the state and a staff panel that interviewed the top candidates. Cantrell was the clear favorite, Chatwin said.

At last week’s council meeting, Chatwin threw his complete support behind Cantrell, going so far as to tie his own job security to Cantrell’s performance as police chief.

Walt Tibbet, former Fairfield police chief and current interim chief, is also credited as being influential in the hiring of Cantrell.

Cantrell began the recruitment process with the city of Fairfield in May 2020, according to the city of SLO. Her final day on the job in San Luis Obispo will be Sept. 30.

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Cantrell has learned from her mistakes and will do better. She won’t repeat her mistakes. One doesn’t reach her position without some level of self-analysis ability. That being said, the one thing that will be difficult for her to change is her character. That has been built over decades. Psychologists now say that by age 4 a person’s character is near complete. By one’s teens it is complete. It is those flaws that manifested in her poor judgement in exigent times in SLO, and it is that lack of character that will eventually lead to mistakes and more in Fairfield, an almost guarantee. Then she will either retire or find another agency, and the circle will continue.

My God- unbelievable. In a “normal”, “regular” city/setting, Cantrell would have been eliminated in the first cut of applicants as a completely unqualified joke. But, as a dysfunctional lesbian radical, she immediately goes to the front of the line and actually gets hired for the job. Simply because she’s a lesbian. Regardless of her “performance” in any other position.

Fairfield- you get what you deserve. Now live with it. She’s yours now- all yours.

Oh, and good luck with that joke so-called “city manager”, too. And your so-called “mayor” and your so-called “city council.” My God, what a disgraceful mess……

Chatwin has only been on the job since December 2019. Previously, he was the city manager for the City of Imperial, CA for about 3 years and prior to that Santaquin, UT for 4.5 years.

You have to wonder with so many short tenures if this isn’t another case of a bad government employee just being handed around waiting for the music to stop and see who is stuck without chair? This happens a lot. The bad employee never gets fired or punished just encouraged to seek other employment, which is what likely happened with Chief Cantrell. We all know it is almost impossible to fire a bad government employee. The sure loser is the taxpayers because they have to fund the outrageous salaries and pensions.

Chatwin seems to be unwilling to contend with the truth about Cantrell. OR even worse, he is OK with Cantrell’s dishonest, nontransparent, self preserving antics. He is unwilling see the bull in the china shop as damaging to society as she really is. Maybe he is just can’t admit his own bad choice is in fact a detrimental Bad Choice?

WE will see How much Cantrell’s Bad choices are going to cost us. Cheynne deserves to be compensated well for the Hell he has been put through. I hope Fairfield has high property taxes. IF she does end up working in Fairfield, I am sure her antics won’t change. Someone else will have to pay the price for her Ego. How many innocent lives have to be devastated for her to finally be held responsible and put on a desk job?

BTW, Can Cheynne sue her personally? Defamation of charater? HE should be walking away with her paycheck for years! OR can the county sue her for the $ they will end of paying Cheynne?

BTW, Can Cheynne sue her personally? Defamation of charater? HE should be walking away with her paycheck for years! OR can the county sue her for the $ they will end of paying Cheynne?

Don’t know, but I doubt it; most jurisdictions have levels of immunity for their employees. Unless less one could conclusively prove that said employee harmed you do to personal animus, maliciousness or crime for profit, etc it likely comes under a “mistake” during performance of duty. You can settle with the jurisdiction, and if jurisdiction feels employee was negligent, etc, they fire them or allow them to resign. If Cheynne got a very sharp and aggressive lawyer I believe the negligence in correcting his legal record coupled with Cantrell’s aggressive pursuit of him over the gun could be turned into a federal civil rights violation case and really cost the City of SLO. The problem I see is that Cantrell is enough removed from the actual hands on harm done to Ornduff vs cops on site, and Dow who could but has failed to order the Ornduff legal record corrected. But, I’m not a lawyer so take this with a grain of salt

edit: This whole thing has exposed a systemic corruption though; why is Suzie Walsh sticking her nose into this? Pressuring Dow to go hard on Ornduff? She wasn’t involved, although her husband was. Most jurisdictions don’t allow spouses to work in same departments

I wondered that too, (about Walsh). IT doesn’t make sense unless she was promised some kind of perk form Cantrell. She treated her as a Lover protects their Love. Covering the Bad behavior at all costs. Including outright lying and misleading! ITs sickening to me to know the department was willing protect Cantrell’s idiot behavior. I heard Walsh litteraly traumatized those little girls during the raid. She is one Sick cop.

Transparency is totally lacking on the lost gun fiasco, which I can partially understand is occurring due to an open case. It’s been over a year on the Orndoff case and Chief Cantrell and the City Manager owe the public the resultant action plans and interventions to prevent reoccurrence (not just to their departments and maybe the city council). Every action plan and intervention listed will be a result of a deficiency within departments, between LE departments or individual infractions found during investigation. From the action plans you can work backwards to find out what the Organizational, Supervisory and individual worker’s errors that occurred or the missing and ineffective barriers. So, Derek Johnson either cough up the full investigation with action plans or just the action plans, so the credentialed investigator types can back-track and assess each plan’s relevance and progress. Any willful disregard of procedures should at a minimum result in days off without pay, a letter of discipline in a personnel file or termination. Any procedural omission (they didn’t know about the procedure) should have associated gap training and yearly follow-up training. A Grand Jury inquiry for action plans might kick some bees out of the beehive.

It’s possible that Cantrell could have personal liability. Often, if an employee acts outside the “course and scope of their employment contract” then that employee may take herself outside the indemnification of the employer.

It sounds like SLO had a policy for lost firearms, and the Chief violated that policy, then they could have a cause of action against her personally. They would have to find a judge who agrees, which might prove difficult.

Is Fairfield in need of a mayor?

Good one!

It appears the City of Fairfield didn’t look too deep in the vetting process. Very poor choice on their part. She is soon to be Fairfield’s problem.

As for SLO city, just another turn in the freefall downward spiral they’ve been in for the last three years. A very snobby and arrogant city that has their vultures coming home to roost.