Besieged Pasadena Police Chief Sanchez Retreats During Tumultuous Time

Sanchez announced his retirement Monday. – Photo by Terry Miller / Beacon Media News


Originally published March 12, 2018 at 5:09 p.m. / Last Updated March 14, 2018 at 11:50 a.m.

John Perez will be acting chief

By Terry Miller

Chief Phillip Sanchez, an eight-year veteran of the Pasadena Police Department (PPD), will leave next month in the seemingly ever-growing wake of lawsuits, alleged misconduct by several officers, alleged cover-ups, AFT arrests and investigations of high ranking officers.

The high ranking lieutenant who was the spokesperson for the PPD until his Sierra Madre home was raided by the ATF. The lieutenant, Vasken Gourdikian, who served as adjutant to Sanchez, was indicted on charges of selling dozens of guns across Southern California without a license and was arrested last week.  Since then, another officer is on paid leave under similar ATF investigations.

In the highly publicized beating of Chris Ballew, which garnered international attention, Sanchez was forthcoming with the release of the body worn camera footage of the incident in which two officers brutally beat Chris Ballew last November.  However, he was not swift to pull the officers involved off duty. Those officers, Lerry Esparza and Zachary Lujan, were finally relieved of patrol duty after substantial public criticism.

Sanchez also faced a multitude of criticism  after the 2016 death of 35-year-old Reginald Thomas Jr., who died in police custody after calling for help, and the 2012 death of 19-year-old Kendrec McDade, who was unarmed when two officers fatally shot him following a false report that he had a weapon.

Despite enormous community outcry in recent years, Pasadena’s Mayor Terry Tornek stood vehemently in support of Chief Sanchez and his ‘not always popular decisions.’

“Chief Sanchez has been a loyal and hard-working Police Chief and I wish him the best,” Tornek said in a written statement Tuesday morning.

Kris Ockershauser, (Coalition for Increased Civilian Oversight of Pasadena Police) had this to say following the announcement:

“While we wish the Chief well, his leaving is no guarantee that the crisis afflicting our police department will be resolved.  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.

The Chief’s leaving is an opportunity for a thoroughgoing review of the Department by an independent, experienced entity like the Office of Independent Review which could recommend reforms that would work for Pasadena. An interim Chief can hold the fort while an informed search, with robust citizen input, for a new Chief is made. To insure ongoing transparency and accountability, the City should adopt the Independent Police Auditor as recommended by city consultants in 2016.”

Civil Rights Attorney Dale L. Gronemeier, said:

“While we have had our differences with Chief Sanchez, we have never called for his resignation or firing.  We wish him the best as he leaves Pasadena.    Chief Sanchez has done many good things, including being very accessible to the community and being a strong disciplinarian.  He has faced a difficult police union leadership that overzealously defends the Department’s few bad apples.  Unfortunately, Chief Sanchez’s recent slownness in putting the officers who beat Chris Ballew on desk duty hasn’t been his finest hour.  We don’t see his leaving as the solution to the Department’s problems.  We look forward to working with Commander Perez to help improve the Department while the City proceeds to search for Chief Sanchez’s permanent successor.”

Here’s the letter Sanchez sent out to the public:

“This afternoon, I informed Pasadena City Manager Steve Mermell that I will be retiring from my position as the Chief of Police, effective April 18th, 2018.
The decision to step away from serving my community is a difficult one which took much deliberation and careful thought. 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. Putting on the Pasadena Police Uniform everyday has truly been a humbling experience.
I am proud of the progress we have made as an agency during my tenure. We implemented various new technologies into our policing abilities including the Body Worn Camera program and enhanced community outreach with the Community Police Academy in both English and Spanish. We have increased the diversity of the Police Department to reflect the community it serves, all the while enhancing our responses to terror threats at large events, while working hard to deliver exceptional police service.
My wife, Deborah, and I are blessed to have a large family and after a 38 year career in law enforcement, I look forward to spending time with all of them in the years ahead. I want to offer my sincere thanks to Mayors Bill Bogaard and Terry Tornek; to the members of the Pasadena City Council, to City Managers Michael Beck and Steve Mermell; and most of all, to the outstanding men and women of the Pasadena Police Department who will continue to serve this city with honor and humility.
Thank you for allowing me to serve the City of Pasadena

Vice Mayor, John J. Kennedy, who has recently been critical of the police said the following on the day Sanchez made his statement:

“This is time to thank Chief of Police Phillip Sanchez for his service to residents, business owners and visitors of Pasadena alike.

Chief Sanchez has proven himself an adroit leader in difficult times. He is one 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.”

City Manager Steve Mermell’s commented during Monday’s council meeting:

“Earlier today, Chief Sanchez informed me of his intent to retire from the Pasadena Police Department, effective April 18, 2018, capping a 38 year career in law enforcement.  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.  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.  We wish Chief Sanchez, his wife Deborah and their entire family all of the best moving forward. Deputy Chief John Perez will serve as Acting Chief while we search for a permanent successor.”     

The controversy surrounding the Pasadena Police has been decades in the making, however in the last ten years or so, Pasadena has seen a plethora of shootings, lawsuits and murders.  Pasadena Independent will be following this story closely and bringing any new developments to your attention.  In the meantime, Chief Sanchez is expected to leave Pasadena April 18.


March 14, 2018

About Author

tmiller Terry Miller has been in the newspaper business for 35 plus years, following in the footsteps of his father who was a Foreign Correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph when the family emigrated to New York from London abroad the Queen Mary. When not shooting pictures or chasing a breaking news story, Miller spends entirely too much time and effort with Little British Sports Cars...more like an addiction, his wife of 20 years says.

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