Crime & Justice

Pasadena police chief retires amid ongoing scrutiny of the department

File: Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez, April 6, 2012.
File: Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez, April 6, 2012.
Erika Aguilar/KPCC

Amid heightened scrutiny of the Pasadena Police Department, Chief Phillip Sanchez announced Monday he would be retiring.

"The decision to step away from serving my community is a difficult one which took much deliberation and careful thought," Sanchez said in a letter shared via Twitter. "Putting on the Pasadena Police Uniform everyday has truly been a humbling experience."

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Activists in the community noted the department's record under 38-year veteran Sanchez has been far from perfect.

Jasmine Richards with Pasadena's chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement said Sanchez has acted "like a mob boss." She spoke at a city council meeting last week, according to the Pasadena Star-News.

"I told you guys time, time and time before that we, the black community, felt like an occupied territory and that [Pasadena police] were an occupying force, but you guys ignored me, and now look what happened," Richards said.

The department has come under scrutiny in recent years amid heightened protests over police violence against young black men. Last fall, officers beat 21-year-old black man Christopher Ballew at a gas station after making a traffic stop which the city said was for having darkly tinted windows and a missing front license plate. Ballew's leg was broken during that encounter.

Further fueling the public outcry, the city released officers' body camera footage to the public — the first time it had done so since the program started.

Sanchez also faced scrutiny over the 2016 Taser death of 35-year-old Reginald Thomas Jr. and the 2012 death of 19-year-old Kendrec McDade, who was unarmed when he was shot and killed by police.

Earlier this month police lieutenant Vasken Gourdikian was arrested and charged with illegally selling more than 100 guns he had obtained because of his position in the department.

Sanchez said his retirement was effective as of April 18 and that he looked forward to spending more time with his family.

Sanchez, who came to Pasadena from the Santa Monica Police Department, said he was proud of the department's progress during his tenure. He cited the launch of the police body camera program, the city's Community Police Academy outreach program, an increase in diversity among personnel that better reflects the community and an enhanced response to terror threats for large events.

A city spokeswoman was not yet aware of any plans for an interim chief, the Star-News reported.