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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.