Huntington Beach Acting Police Chief Resigns After Council Splits Over Police Reform

October 24, 2020 Updated: October 27, 2020

As the election nears, police reform has become a central issue in the Huntington Beach City Council race, with some candidates planning to reallocate police funding and implement reforms if elected.

The resulting political infighting led Huntington Beach Acting Police Chief Kelly Rodriguez to announce her retirement on Oct. 22. Rodriguez was appointed to the post on Oct. 13 when the former chief, Robert Handy, announced his retirement.

“I have loved being part of this amazing Police Department and had been looking forward to serving as the acting chief. However, there is an unhealthy level of divisiveness right now in the department, and I have no desire to be thrust into the middle of political fights that are currently occurring,” Rodriguez said in a joint statement with City Manager Oliver Chi on Oct. 22.

Chi told The Epoch Times, “I’ve asked her to stay, and told her I’d fight alongside her, but she doesn’t want to be part of the political fighting that’s happening.”

Councilmember Erik Peterson told The Epoch Times he’s disappointed by the announcement.

“I know for a fact there are councilmembers that are trying to push her out,” Peterson told The Epoch Times, mentioning Councilmember Kim Carr, who couldn’t be reached for comment.

“I’m a little ticked off, I’m a little upset, because … you can talk to some of the lieutenants and captains: she [Rodriguez] is the best law enforcement example out there. She’s just honest, fair, a leader. She’s just a great, great person.”

In an email to the Huntington Beach Police Department, Rodriguez said her last day will be Nov. 13.

“I was notified that some of the City Council members would prefer a different interim while they look for a permanent replacement. I was offered the separation incentive and chose to accept it,” Rodriguez said in the email.

A Change.org petition to keep Rodriguez in her position began circulating shortly after the announcement was made.

Mailers

Rodriguez’s resignation comes just a week after multiple mailers were sent out by Cal Pacific, a Huntington Beach Political Action Committee (PAC), depicting City Council candidates Oscar Rodiguez, Natalie Moser, and Dan Kalmick as radicals who would bring Portland, Oregon-like chaos to Huntington Beach.

“The Huntington Beach Police Officers Say: Don’t let Natalie Moser, Dan Kalmick and Oscar Rodriguez turn HB [Huntington Beach] into Portland!” the mailer said, referring to the arson, looting, and vandalism, that followed protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in police custody.

Epoch Times Photo
A mailer sent out by Cal Pacific and other groups in Huntington Beach, Calif. (Courtesy of Cal Pacific)

The three candidates are endorsed by the Democratic Party of Orange County (DPOC), which has published on its website a resolution to support Black Lives Matter, including the statement: “The Democratic Party of Orange County affirms its expectation for civilian oversight boards with subpoena and investigatory powers, [to initiate] overhauls in standards of use of force, the demilitarization of police agencies, [and] the reevaluation of large allocations of city budgets for public safety.”

In addition, the DPOC “will follow up with endorsed candidates in the 2021 calendar year to ensure endorsed elected officials have made good faith attempts to pass the above priorities.”

None of the three candidates immediately responded to requests by The Epoch Times for comment.

Moser says on her website: “I support police reform, including increased transparency and accountability, expanding social services to allow officers to do the job they were hired to do, and a review of de-escalation policies and training procedures.”

She told the Orange County Register she was unhappy that the mailer used a photo of her from a Women’s March where she was holding a sign that said, “Organize, resist, agitate, protect.” She said it was taken out of context to relate to the police issue.

Rodriguez told the Register he is a first-time candidate who just wants to help the community, and Kalmick said he has never supported defunding the police.

The recent mailers had the stamp of approval from the Police Management Association (PMA), which endorsed candidates Gracey Van Der Mark, Tito Ortiz, and Casey McKeon.

“We endorsed candidates that we felt best represented the character, selfless service, the values of men and women … and not based on any special interest,” PMA President David David Dereszynski told The Epoch Times.

Dereszynski said he’s worried the Democratic-endorsed candidates will seek to take “away resources that will have a direct impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of our employees on how we deal with issues in the community.”

The police department’s budget is about $80 million of the city’s $359 million total budget.

“The department has a history of being flexible and reallocating resources as the community needs, so we feel that there’s plenty of that oversight already built in there,” Dereszynski said. “We don’t need certain factions to come in and essentially disrupt the systems that have been in place.”

Kalmick is “a really nice guy, you know, personally, but his politics are way far left,” Pat Garcia, who leads Cal Pacific and serves on the planning commission alongside Kalmick, told The Epoch Times.

Garcia said the mailer was “in response to all the negative ads we’ve seen for the last 10–15 years, because the opposition keeps running negative ads.”

He shared with The Epoch Times a mailer from 2018 funded by the Huntington Beach Police Officers Association (POA), another local police union at odds in many ways with the PMA. PMA represents nine lieutenants and three captains, while POA represents 264 rank-and-file officers, along with other law enforcement staff.

The 2018 POA mailer called some candidates “extremists” who “are threatening our economy and safety.”

The POA has endorsed Kalmick, one of the targets of the PMA/Cal Pacific mailer, along with former mixed martial arts fighter, Tito Ortiz.

The POA did not immediately reply to a request for comment. POA President Yasha Nikitin told the Orange County Register the mailer was an “embarrassing and failed attempt, without reason or justification, to hit three well-regarded and innocent candidates.”

City Attorney Questioned

Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates was questioned by the Orange County Register after records showed his wife donated $1,000 to Cal Pacific.

Gates told The Epoch Times that his wife’s donation was made weeks before the mailer was sent out and she had no knowledge how the money would be used. He supports her decision, which was intended to support the PMA.

The Register stated that he has expressed his political leanings during his years in office, and questioned the ethics of doing that while in a non-partisan political office.

“I have not endorsed any candidates and, notably, I haven’t spoken out against any candidates. There’s some of my detractors, including some of the people feeding the Orange County Register information [that have] said that I’m part of this negative ad,” Gates told The Epoch Times.

“I do work for the police department. I represent them in all their cases, so I totally, fully support our Huntington Beach Police Department 1,000 percent, but I didn’t want to get involved, politically, in the council candidate race, and so I chose not to donate.”

Gates said he will work with whoever is elected and that he’s worked well with both Republicans and Democrats.

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