With his department mired in scandal, Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez announced on Monday that he is ending his career in law enforcement.
“For the past eight years I have had the honor of leading one of the nation’s finest law enforcement agencies, comprised of heroic men and women who serve with distinction in keeping our city safe,” Sanchez said in a prepared statement. Sanchez came to Pasadena from the Santa Monica Police Department in 2010. “Putting on the Pasadena police uniform every day has truly been a humbling experience.”
Deputy Police Chief John Perez will serve as interim chief starting March 19. Sanchez will not officially leave the department until April 18.
“While we wish the chief well, his leaving is no guarantee that the crisis afflicting our Police Department will be resolved,” said local police reform activist Kris Ockerhauser. “The intransigence of the department has several sources. One is the uncompromising opposition of the Pasadena police union to every meaningful reform proposal. Another is that the city manager —the de facto overseer of PPD — has dug in his heels in defense of status quo policies and performance. Also, the City Council has shown little interest in seeing that the serious changes needed are made.”
Mermell thanked Sanchez for his service to the city.
“On behalf of the city of Pasadena, I want to thank Chief Sanchez for his service to our city and express gratitude for his leadership of our Police Department,” Mermell wrote in an email. “His commitment to our outstanding sworn and non-sworn personnel, to keeping our city safe and to the city of Pasadena will be his legacy.”
Popular among business people, community members and even some critics, Sanchez led the department during a time of increased scrutiny placed on police by social media and advancing technology that has produced posts regarding any perceived misstep.
He struggled to get the support of staunch police critics who derided him after the officer-involved shooting death of unarmed Kendrec McDade in 2012.
Critics blamed Sanchez after City Manager Michael Beck refused to release an independent report on the shooting.
In some ways, the department never recovered from the city’s initial lack of transparency in that case.
Sanchez came under fire in December when he refused to place two police officers on administrative leave after video footage surfaced of police officers beating up Altadena motorist Christopher Ballew during a November traffic stop, leading to comparisons with the video of the Rodney King beating in 1991.
Despite the outcries, officers Zachary Lujan and Lerry Esparza remained on duty until March 7.
In an unrelated case, last Friday a grand jury indicted Lt. Vasken Gourdikian on four counts of illegally selling guns, lying on government forms and possessing a short-barrel rifle. Gourdikian, who has pleaded not guilty, remains free on $100,000 bail.
On Monday, critics grew even angrier after discovering that agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are investigating a second Pasadena police officer in connection with the Gourdikian case.
Sanchez made efforts to reel in some of his officers, firing 15 officers for policy violations and promoting minority officers, including former Deputy Chief Darryl Qualls and Perez. In 2015, Cheryl Moody became the department’s first black woman commander under Sanchez.
Sanchez embraced technology and counterterrorism tactics at big events, helping to lower the number of arrests made at the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl game. He also rolled out the department’s body-worn cameras.
“This is the time to thank Chief of Police Phillip Sanchez for his service to residents, business owners and visitors of Pasadena alike,” Vice Mayor John Kennedy, who chairs the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, wrote in a text to the Weekly.
“Chief Sanchez has proven himself an adroit leader in difficult times,” Kennedy continued. “He is someone who cares deeply about community and family. I have not met any public servant who was willing to work as hard as the chief. I wish Chief Sanchez the very best as he retires from the city of Pasadena.”