Santa Ana Changes Acting Police Chief For Second Time in Two Months

City of Santa Ana

Deputy Chief David Valentin was appointed acting Santa Ana police chief on Tuesday.

Santa Ana’s acting police chief suddenly switched Tuesday for the second time in as many months, with Jim Schnabl replaced with another deputy chief, David Valentin, who is supported by several City Council members and the leader of the police officers’ union.

The change was made by Interim City Manager Cynthia Kurtz, who announced the switch Tuesday morning in an internal city memo.

Kurtz and Schnabl said the change was completely unrelated to Schnabl’s consideration of possibly hiring a former CHP officer who made national headlines in 2014 when video showed him repeatedly punching a woman who was on the ground along the 10 freeway in Los Angeles.

The former officer, Daniel Andrew, resigned from the CHP and the state agency agreed to a $1.5 million settlement with Marlene Pinnock, the woman he punched.

Andrew was later cleared of any wrongdoing by a Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office investigation.

Schnabl said he and Kurtz decided about a month ago not to hire Andrew.

Kurtz said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon she made the switch in acting chiefs because “I felt it was my responsibility to work with the two gentlemen inside [the department] who were interested in serving as the acting chief.”

Kurtz said she “wanted the opportunity to tell the next city manager,” who will make the permanent police chief appointment, about both candidates.

Schnabl became acting chief on April 27, a week after the resignation of Chief Carlos Rojas, who was opposed by the officers’ union and left the city for a different agency after candidates supported by the union gained City Council seats in last year’s election.

Schnabl has been supported by several of the seven City Council members who have been at odds over the last year with the police union. The union ran attack ads against members of their group during last year’s election saying, among other things, that money that could have been spent hiring more police was instead going to a large salary for then-City Manager David Cavazos.

The shift from Schnabl to Valentin was welcomed by the police union’s president, Gerry Serrano, who said Valentin is the best contender for the position.

“I’m pleased the city, after a thorough vetting, background and selection process, chose the best qualified and experienced candidate for this critical position,” Serrano said in an emailed statement.

“A hometown proud product of Santa Ana schools, David Valentin was raised in this community and is a Hall of Fame Inductee at Santa Ana College. His leadership and executive management as a previous Chief of Police for 5 years at the Santa Ana Unified School Police Department and proven successes managing all the Bureaus of the SAPD make him the best qualified.”

Councilman Jose Solorio, who was among three council members strongly supported by the police union in last year’s election, agreed.

“I think acting city police chief Dave Valentin’s gonna do a marvelous job. He has family roots in Santa Ana, and he has extensive experience in all the police department bureaus,” Solorio said in a phone interview Tuesday.

“An additional plus is his ongoing relationship with the Santa Ana school district and their police department.”

Mayor Miguel Pulido, who was also supported by the police union last year, said Valentin is the best person to lead the department.

“We need a strong leader right now, and I think he’s the strong leader,” Pulido said at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.

Councilman David Benavides, who is among the council group that clashed with the police union last year, thanked Schnabl for serving the department and welcomed Valentin into the acting chief role.

Kurtz said she plans for the permanent chief to be chosen by her successor, the permanent city manager, when Kurtz is scheduled to leave the interim job in October.

The switch from Schnabl to Valentin apparently came about quickly. In an interview, Schnabl said Kurtz spoke with him Thursday about having Valentin become acting chief in August so she could spend equal time with both candidates as acting chief.

After thinking about it over the weekend, Schnabl said he recommended Monday that the change take place immediately to allow the person serving as acting chief to make longer-term planning decisions for the department.

“I truly believe [Schnabl] was thinking about the men and women who work in that department,” Kurtz said. “They have, for quite some time now, not known from day to day who the chief will be. And at least this gives them five months of a known leader.”

“I worked well with Jim [Schnabl],” Kurtz said. “I thought [that] he did a great job. He is so committed to the police department and to this community.”

Kurtz said Schnabl’s consideration of hiring Andrew, the former CHP officer, “was a non-issue”

Kurtz said several people in the Santa Ana Police Department who were part of the interviews and background checks told her the former CHP officer “did deserve to be hired.”

Schnabl said both members of the second interview panel believed Andrew could fill a vacant park ranger position. But, Schnabl said, he and Kurtz ultimately decided about a month ago not to hire the former CHP officer.

“It was determined that it wasn’t in the best interest of the city of Santa Ana or the Santa Ana Police Department to continue forward,” Schnabl said.

Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a statement when the findings about Andrew were released: “In our analysis, his use of force was legal and necessary to protect not only his own life but also that of Ms. Pinnock.”

The former CHP officer applied twice to the Santa Ana department, and the second time the interview panel was split on whether to hire him as an officer, Schnabl said.

The members of the second hiring panel, commanders Ken Gominsky and Peter Semelsberger, came to Schnabl and discussed the situation, Schnabl said.

Instead of hiring him as an officer, the three talked about possibly having Andrew fill a vacant park ranger position that the department had been trying to fill for three years with no success, he said.

“Both [of] the panelists believed that that would be a good spot for him,” Schnabl said.

Schnabl said he then brought the issue to Kurtz, who supervises the police chief and the entire city government. The two of them discussed it and “together we decided that it wasn’t in the best interest” of the city or police department to hire Andrew.

The transition in police department leadership also comes as the city nears a possible labor agreement with its police officers over salary and benefits.

Kurtz said a new labor contract with the police union could come to the City Council for approval as soon as July 5, but that terms still need to be finalized.

The police union’s membership has been voting in recent days on a tentative agreement with the city, according to sources close to the situation.

Kurtz declined to disclose the proposed terms, but a source close to the situation said it would increase salaries, longevity pay, and academic degree incentives, while shifting a portion of pension costs from the city to officers.

Under state law, the proposed terms must be made public at least 72 hours before the City Council votes on whether to approve it.

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

  • Manuel Delgadillo

    Let’s leave the SAPOA, City Council and all the political drama out of this decision for a new Santa Ana Interim Police Chief. Can we agree on this? What our new City Manager did was pick the best qualified candidate for the position at this time. And this all could have been avoided if former Chief Carlos Rojas, knowing he was on his way out made the right choice. But Rojas biggest threat was at the time Deputy Chief Valentin. Rojas could have easily saved face with his choice of Valentine upon Rojas departure but this would certainly confirm the inevitable, but not if your choice was made for the betterment of the City of Santa Ana and the Santa Ana Police Department.

    I believe Interim City Manager Kurtz made the right choice based on qualifications and some will say because of the Latino issue. I would not want the choice based on the word Latino. The choice could have been Caucasian, Asian, and Afro-American but all along the best choice was, and is in house. This is based on qualifications. Valentin’s mind and soul are dedicated to make the City of Santa Ana a better place to live and work but the most important ingredient is his heart, it is definitely in Santa Ana. I liken him to former Dodger Manager Tommy Lasorda who bleeds Dodger Blue. Valentin has Calle Cuatro, Bristol Street, Standard Ave and McFadden running through his veins. Valentin grew up in Santa Ana period.

    Come to think of it! All these changes in the Santa Ana City Council, City Manager, Chiefs of Police, Ice Contract and the Santa Ana Jail, Sanctuary City Status and Losing of Federal Funding, Calle Cuatro, the spike in shootings, and the sudden heat wave. Could this be the work of the Russians meddling in our city affairs and city voting process!

    My best wishes to Valentin because the right man was finally chosen for the job.

  • verifiedsane

    The best acting chief that POA campaign dollars can buy…It pretty much speaks for itself….the more things change in Santa Ana, the more they stay the same…

  • David Resendez

    We now know Tinajero sold his vote in exchange for the POA dropping the recall. Sal is for the people until it’s an inconvenience. Sarmiento also sold his vote to save the affordable housing project he’s been pushing for years. Hopefully, the Council has the guts to conduct a nationwide search for police chief, but don’t bet on it. The POA runs SA again.

  • LFOldTimer

    What a surprise. A pro-union chief of police. Rojas was a bad boy because he stood up to the union and tried to hold his dirty cops accountable. So they got rid of him. Now they replaced him with a union puppet – so basically the union will dictate how police matters are dealt with in the City of Santa Ana. In other words, no accountability and huge pay raises. That’s what huge infusions of police union “donations” to their sycophant council members buys.

    If you question my opinion wait until you find out the size of the “negotiated” raise that Santa Ana gives to their cops while the city is running a deficit budget that will go into double digits (millions) in the next couple years. hah. Regardless of the dire financial conditions facing the City the cops will get a very sweet package – all in the name to “keeping you safe”. hah. At that point there shouldn’t be any question in your mind that you live in a police state. They’ll cut back on rec programs for the kids and your potholes won’t get filled – but the cops will get a sweet raise.

    Wait for it!!!

  • astar2b

    Santa Ana, resist the urge to hire a former celebrity CHP officer as chief…!

    • Bob Brock

      Kang for Santa Ana Police Chief!