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Gil Carrillo Becomes the City of San Fernando's Interim Police Chief – Will He Become Permanent? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Diana Martinez, Editor   
Thursday, 05 April 2012 02:47


Gil Carrillo

Gil Carrillo has come out of retirement to take the job as the city of San Fernando's interim police chief. Retiring in 2009, Carrillo, now 62 years old, had enjoyed a successful 38-year career in law enforcement , raising to the rank of Lieutenant with the L.A. County Sheriff's Department. In 1985, he received nationwide attention and much praise as the co-lead detective in the infamous Richard Ramirez Night Stalker case that became the subject of a book and movie.

Despite Carrillo's notoriety and credentials, San Fernando residents are taking a wait-and-see position on him. For many residents the decision to hire Carrillo as the interim chief, represented yet another end run, and added to a long list of broken promises and questionable back room deals.

Residents, business owners, the Police Officers Association and two members of the city council were all caught off guard at the recent city council meeting where they officially learned that the city administrator and members of the council majority had already vetted Carrillo and he was the candidate of choice. On that same night they voted to hire him without input, although they had been previously reassured that there would be a transparent and public process in the selection process.

Residents voiced their disapproval with an impromptu walkout of the city council meeting that introduced Carrillo, and later in closed session voted to bring him in as the interim chief. Two council members did not take part in that vote. Those two council members who were also kept in the dark, Sylvia Ballin and Antonio Lopez walked out of the council chambers with residents. It was the first time such a spontaneous and strong show of disapproval had taken place from residents and the first time council members had walked off the dais to join residents in protest.

Councilmember Ballin would later say that there was no point to attend the closed door session to vote when the hire was already planned and a forgone conclusion with the city administrator and the council majority. Councilmember Lopez and Ballin were never consulted and in fact, they would later learn that the council majority instructed the city administrator not to inform them of the discussions held in a prior meeting.

Ballin has voiced her concern that it would be difficult for Carrillo or anyone hired in that manner to be independent when hired through the back door by the controversial council majority.

Petitions are currently being circulated to recall the council majority made up of the new Mayor Brenda Esqueda, and council members Mario Hernandez and Maribel De La Torre.

The City of San Fernando and it's police department are steeped in problems that run very deep.

Both City Hall and the police department have been tightly intertwined for many years. It's only over the last few years that both the city's and the police department's dirty laundry has been aired, resulting in a very public fallout. That laundry list is very long. It includes extramarital affairs and conflict of interest votes by the city council.

The new mayor, Brenda Esqueda, has had an ongoing affair with San Fernando police Sgt. Alvaro Castellon. Former mayor Mario Hernandez' public announcement of his affair with Councilwoman Maribel De La Torre made nationwide headlines and was the topic on entertainment talk shows and jokes, residents complained that Hernandez placed the town on the map for all the wrong reasons.

The San Fernando police chief has also been at the center of scandal when a former police cadet came forward and produced emails outlining her affair with then Chief Anthony Ruelas. The council majority, shocking residents, brought Ruelas back to the post who to put his replacement, interim Chief Jeff Eley, on administrative leave for alleged ticket fixing.

There was also a controversial jail cell hanging in San Fernando's jail, as well as fallout from a rather tasteless and inappropriate video that was shot inside the police department that resulted not in the firing of the police officer who was the subject of the video but instead terminated female police officer Sgt. Nichole Hanchett. Both Hanchett and Eley have legal representation and Hanchett is currently suing the city for discrimination.

These are only the brief highlights and only scratches the surface of what Carrillo has inherited as the next person to occupy the police chief's chair causing residents to say, 'He may have handled the night stalker case, but can really he handle San Fernando?' They are aware that there is often a perception that working for a small municipality and it's police department is far easier than working for the big guys, but believe for those that have sat in that chair, they find, the opposite is true. Carrillo has been given a six month contract to serve as the interim chief with a monthly salary of $10,083.33 which will include a police vehicle and compensation for the usual sick and vacation days.

Many in this small town will be closely watching to see what Carrillo will do and if he will truly lift the rug and sweep under it or will he simply go around the pile of serious problems. The Police Officers Association and members of the city's recall committee have also publicly asked whether Carrillo has the management experience to lead and build a healthier department. Over the next six months, many questions may be answered for residents and for Carrillo who describes himself as a "straight shooter."

Will he be allowed to independently lead or will he beholden to those who hired him? Are the serious challenges in San Fernando more than he bargained for? How will he handle the tight rope between city hall and the police department and reporting to a city administrator closely tied to a controversial council majority? How will he handle the many controversial loose ends at the police department? How much action will he take in six months? Will he rock the boat or will it be business as usual. And ultimately, after his six month contract is up, will he be committed for the long haul to take the job permanently?

Currently living in Rowland Heights, he gets up at 5:00 a.m for the long commute to San Fernando. He is the first to admit that he still has much to learn about the northeast San Fernando Valley, he is very familiar with the eastern part of L.A. County and during our interview he at times corrected himself after referring to San Fernando as Santa Fe Springs. He points out that he is confident with all that he knows about law enforcement, but acknowledges that the City of San Fernando and the valley is new geographic territory for him.

The following is Part 1 of the interview held with Interim Police Chief Gil Carrillo and San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol Editor Diana Martinez

SFV Sun/El Sol : How did you first learn about the job?

Carrillo: I learned about the job when I received a phone call from a gentleman I had never met that told me they were looking in the City of San Fernando, for someone who was retired law enforcement, somebody who had integrity, and that's how I found out about the job. He told me there were internal problems going on with the city council and the media itself and that's what started it. Two weeks later, I was appointed chief of police. I was retired at the time, I retired for two years at time and I spent 38 years in law enforcement

SFV Sun/El Sol: Okay. You said you heard about it from a gentleman but I didn't catch who that was?

Carrillo: I don't remember the guys name, calling on behalf of the City of San Fernando.

SFV Sun/El Sol: So you don't know who called? Was it your impression that it was someone from City Hall that called?

Carrillo: No, it wasn't somebody from City Hall. The gentleman said he was someone who was helping out and said they were looking for somebody for the city of San Fernando.

SFV Sun/El Sol: Alright, I won't beat that horse. Once you were designated as a candidate, when did you begin discussions with whomever it was at the city. I imagine it was City Administrator Al Hernandez.

Carrillo: The 9th of March.

SFV Sun/El Sol: It went that fast, from the 9th of March? From the 9th to the appointment date [March 16.]

SFV Sun/El Sol: That's pretty fast. So, who did you interview with?

Carrillo: I interviewed with...ah....Well, I'll tell you what, when it comes to the interview process, I understand why everybody is upset and I think you ought to speak to the city administrator about anything you have about the appointment. I'll answer any questions I can about me and about the department. But the selection process, you're going to have to get back to the city administrator

SFV Sun/El Sol: You don't want to tell me who you actually interviewed with?

Carrillo: No, I suggest you get that from the city administrator. I don't want to say anything regarding the process, I've got nothing to hide, but I think that ought to come from the city administrator's office.

SFV Sun/El Sol: That is a sticking point with many people, as you know. Various council people had assured the community that there would be an open forum to discuss the selection. So when this occurred, you were sitting in the room, the deal had already been struck. When people came to the podium. I think they were very clear in saying that this was no reflection on you,[but they were very unhappy with the council majority and how they brought you in].

Carrillo: Yes, I got that.

SFV Sun/El Sol: They were very upset, as you know. Are you aware of any of the history?

Carrillo: Everybody, including petitioning council persons that walked out, I understand, I truly do, I understand why they walked out in protest. I understand the resident's outrage. I understand the remarks made by the POA President Irwin Rosenberg. I understand it. Had I been sitting in their shoes, I'd have felt the same way. But the realities are, I had absolutely nothing to do with the process. I understand their feelings, their frustrations, and as I told the POA president, the contract was signed for six months. If the city is not happy or the residents bump me out, they want me out of Dodge, POA law enforcement, the department, both [council] members are unhappy, I would be the first one not to sign the contract. I would not go into somebody's house where I was not welcomed. One [of the two council members who walked out in protest] actually [later]said, 'We apologize. It's nothing about you, it's the manner in which you were chosen. They didn't tell you nothing. They just threw you under the bus.'

I can appreciate what they are saying.

All I have is my name and my reputation before me. And I hope when all is said and done, whether the selection process was fair and equitable, whether it was done behind closed doors. I have done nothing, I've had absolutely zero to do with the selection process. I was the candidate selected. I'm going to try everything in power to turn things around. And if it doesn't work out, well then I would leave. I think, I understand, that at least within the police department I think they understand that. It will take time. I was supposed to go for a badge pinning ceremony on Monday [following the council vote]. I requested that it be postponed.

I didn't want to do it. They asked me, 'how long do you want to postpone it for? I said, when I gain the trust and respect from the men and women of the San Fernando Police Department, which would then hopefully transcend over to the majority of the residents who there [at the council meeting]that first night. Because I know about the recall and they're all in it together. As long as I gain acceptance by them, then I can stand before them and take the badge pinning ceremony and not tell them because otherwise it would be like in your face, here I am. I do understand what's going on, so that's not what I want to do.

SFV Sun/El Sol: The full council didn't even know your name. The full council didn't have an opportunity to sit down and talk with you, before you were there that night and attended a raucous council meeting. There is this history with this council majority, of making these end runs, having violations of the Brown Act, and meeting behind closed doors to do exactly what they did that night, which is make decisions the wrong way without going through the agreed upon process, with breaking promises, with calling meetings and not letting people know. So the natural knee jerk reaction is, if they brought this guy in, is he their guy and with that, have they expressed to him that 'We brought you in therefore we demand your loyalty?'

It's no secret, the police department is a big concern of theirs and they want it taken care of their way. Has there been any instruction given to you, from the council majority or City Administrator Al Hernandez?

Carrillo: Let me tell you what I told them when I was first asked about this job. Since then, I've spoke with the two council persons [Ballin and Lopez] that walked off. What was scheduled for an hour [meeting with them afterward] lasted approximately two and half hours. And by the time I was done, they expressed to me that they trusted me, they supported me and they believed that this what the city needed. I told them, I am beholding to no one, I never met those people, and I told them that I will not do anything that is unlawful, unethical, and I will always do what is legal and what is right. I will not succumb to their pressure. If they don't like it, I'll quit. I have to give them thirty days before I quit. They only have to have three days [when]they can fire me. I won't be manipulated. All I have left is a law enforcement career, my reputation and myself, my integrity. As I explained to them I wasn't looking for their job, I don't need their job. As a matter of fact, I sat down with Sheriff Lee Baca and talked with him. I said we actually got it better than you, Lee. Because these contract cities, they can do pretty much what they want, because if not, they bring in another agency.

What's the worst that could happen to me? I go back into retirement. I enjoyed retirement but I have a passion for law enforcement. I am not a racist. But I am the son of Mexican immigrants and it makes me feel so proud when I can see an elderly Hispanic individual, a couple of elderly people and I can smile and a wave and they wave back and I know they felt good. So that's what I want to do. I love law enforcement.

SFV Sun/El Sol: What are your priorities as chief?

There are still the every day operations that have to be done, you have to look after the troops. The number one priority is to establish leadership and caring for the troops, lifting their morale because morale transcends over to the community. When you have good cops they are going to interact better with the community. Right now, I'm relaying on my predecessor senior officers and staff at the department to keep me aware of any problems, to bring me up to date on any problems. I'm not aware of any major crime in San Fernando. There are certain issues and problems I'm going to have to deal with as they come about that I have to look into. I've been reading all morning long on the death of an inmate in the jail, before I ever was in this town, and see some things that have to change. There are certain things I have to deal with as they come about. But right now, my priority is establishing leadership and stability to the station and a string of safety around the residents of San Fernando.

Next Week: The San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol continues Part 2 of the interview with interim Chief Carrillo who discusses his credentials for the job.