After six years at the helm of one of Orange County’s largest police forces, Santa Ana Police Chief David Valentin has announced that he’ll retire this year.
In one announcement letter to police department employees, Valentin seemingly warned of the police union’s political reach over elected officials and city staff in town.
“Corrupt and compromised politicians, compromised staff and/or beholden individuals, groups and agendas should never impact your integrity, discernment or your genuine commitment to doing the right thing in pursuit of equity, service and justice for our Santa Ana community,” Valentin wrote.
His expected departure marks a turning point for a town in which policing has become a more central focus in city politics than ever before.
For years, union leadership drew City Council battle lines by spending heavily on local elections and endorsing select candidates, notably the city’s current mayor, Valerie Amezcua and current Councilmembers David Penaloza and Phil Bacerra.
Requests for comment from all three went unreturned on Wednesday.
Now there’s been intense debates over things like increasingly arresting people for public intoxication, and dueling ethics complaints between the mayor and a police union critic, Councilman Johnathan Ryan Hernandez.
There’s also a police union-backed $371,000 recall effort that could unseat police union critic, Councilwoman Jessie Lopez.
“I’m very disappointed to see him go. I understand it’s been several years now he has been the subject of a targeted and unrelenting campaign of hate from his own police union,” Lopez said in a Wednesday phone interview.
“He’s one of the very few officers that works in our city and lives in our city and I do believe he truly cares about the well-being of our community. We both have had the experience of being on the receiving end of bullying, harassment, and intimidation campaigns by the police union.”
Most notably, Valentin was a political target of the police union’s former embattled leader, Gerry Serrano, during Serrano’s high-profile quest to boost his public pension, despite City Hall leaders saying it would be improper.
In turn, Valentin in his Wednesday retirement letter said his experience should be an example for politicians and city officials.
“In spite of what a handful of people did in failed attempts to destroy me professionally and personally, all because I had the audacity and internal fortitude to speak truth to absolute corrupt power; allow my experience to serve as an example of the importance of perseverance and redemption, based on facts and truth, and why we chose this most noble profession – to serve others ethically as our top priority, not ourselves,” the outgoing police chief wrote.
Serrano, during his dispute with city leaders, hurled a number of lawsuits at City Hall executives, including Valentin and City Manager Kristine Ridge, accusing them of wrongdoing.
In response, they deemed Serrano’s lawsuits a pressure campaign – an effort to “burn the city to the ground unless he gets what he wants.”
The judges in those cases have largely sided with the city, with the police union at one point finding itself on the hook for as much as $68,000 in total fees for its losses in court.
And in July, California Attorney General Rob Bonta declined to file criminal charges against Valentin, after Serrano sent five letters to Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer requesting he initiate a criminal investigation into Valentin, in January of last year.
Spitzer, citing a conflict of interest his office has refused to elaborate on, referred the matter to the AG’s office.
Valentin became chief in 2017, after serving for nine months on an interim basis following the ouster of former chief Carlos Rojas, who was opposed by the police union under Serrano.
Rojas left for another police chief position after union-backed Santa Ana City Council candidates gained a majority of seats in the 2016 election and succeeded in ousting Rojas’ boss, then-City Manager David Cavazos.
Rojas then became police chief of the BART transit system in the San Francisco Bay Area, and filed a lawsuit against Santa Ana, alleging he was forced out by former union-backed Mayor Miguel Pulido and Serrano after whistleblowing.
Both Serrano and Pulido denied those allegations at the time.
Rojas wrote in his lawsuit he “engendered the wrath” of Serrano and the police union because he started to “pursue police accountability measures and crack down on poor officer behavior.”
During Valentin’s time in charge of Santa Ana’s police force, he saw controversies like the 2021 shooting of Brandon Lopez, the cousin of Santa Ana Councilmember Johnathan Ryan Hernandez.
Santa Ana police – alongside Anaheim police – engaged in a traffic pursuit of Lopez in September on suspicion of driving a stolen vehicle. It led to a standoff in Hernandez’s neighborhood, Artesia Pilar, which ended in Anaheim police forcing Lopez out of his car with a flash bang, mistaking a water bottle in his black bag for a gun, and shooting him to death.
Earlier this month, a judge dismissed Valentin and the City of Santa Ana from the family’s civil lawsuit over the shooting.
In 2022, the journalist Ben Camacho with the Los Angeles-based local news site, Knock LA, reported on allegations of a gang-like group within the police department’s MET team, an updated version of the department’s old SWAT strike force, which Valentin championed.
In response, city officials launched an investigation that found no such gang operating in the police ranks, according to the OC Register.
Valentin has logged more than 33 years of service with the City of Santa Ana, according to a police department news release attached to his retirement announcement.
He was also Chief of Police for the Santa Ana Unified School District for five years; and sat on the Santa Ana Boys and Girls Club Board of Directors.
Under Valentin, the police department launched what city officials described as a “first of its kind” Family Justice Center, aimed at connecting victims of domestic violence with services like obtaining restraining orders.