Earlier this month we shared the story of Deanna Cantrell. She is the San Luis Obispo Police Chief who left her service weapon in the restroom of a fast food restaurant.

Only she didn’t. We are now discovering that she left her 6-round Glock 42, which was a personally owned weapon. Oddly enough, the strange twists to this updated story do not stop there.

Now, Chief Cantrell is facing accusations of a cover-up. And the accusations are coming from inside the department.

As the details have unfolded, we appear to have a police chief that attempted to keep the loss of her weapon and the subsequent search off the radar and out of official channels, even though she claimed to have immediately reported the stolen pistol.

The hunt for the Glock 42 allegedly resulted in an illegal search of a home without a warrant, the arrest of those homeowners for child neglect because the house was messy, and the children being held at the police station until the next day.

Here’s how it all started.

Earlier this month, Cantrell took to Facebook to apology to America for totally dropping the ball – correction – the gun – when dropping her pants.

She says she left her gun in a restroom and it was immediately stolen and now officials are looking for a man seen in restaurant surveillance video leaving shortly after the weapon vanished.

Chief Cantrell said that her actions were “irresponsible and dangerous,” adding that there is no excuse for her actions and that she is glad a child did not find the service weapon.

She was having lunch in a restaurant on Wednesday and went in to use the restroom.

“Even though my gun was in a holster it didn’t stay clipped to my pants so I removed it and I placed it next to me,” she said.

She claimed that within minutes of leaving the restroom, she realized what had happened and went back to retrieve the pistol, only to find it gone. They checked the surveillance footage, finding that 3 people had gone into the restroom between her first visit and her return. The first, a man who went into the restroom then left the store without ordering, and two others who were still in the restaurant. They claimed the weapon was not in the restroom and they did not have it in their possession.

They put out a post with an image of the person who they believe took the gun.

“I was complacent and that’s something you can never be with a firearm,” she said. “I expect more from myself as a person and especially as a police officer that has carried a firearm for 25 years. I expect to be held accountable and I want to publicly apologize for my carelessness, and I hope that in some way this serves as a lesson for others.”

But here’s what we’re now learning.

Chief Cantrell claimed that she left her pistol in the restroom and noticed it around noon. It was not until 7:30 pm that San Luis Obispo patrol officers were made aware and were issued a BOLO.

In stark contrast to Cantrell’s timeline, SLO County Sheriff Chief Deputy Aaron Nix said that between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. on July 10, SLO Police Department employees requested the sheriff’s department assist them in finding the gun.

A sheriff watch commander then asked why they had not informed area law enforcement through a BOLO alert and gave SLO police dispatch a 30 minute window to send out an officer safety BOLO alert to area law enforcement.

“We inquired as to whether they intended to put out an Officer Safety BOLO,” Nix said. “SLOPD Dispatch advised they did intend to send out a BOLO and we offered to assist them in that regard. We told them we would re-contact them in about a half an hour to check on their progress, and we later confirmed they had in fact put out the BOLO.”

According to Cal Coast News, it is typical to immediately broadcast a bolo when a officer’s weapon is lost or stolen, putting area law enforcement on notice, both to quickly recover the gun and to protect officer and public safety.

I spoke with several police officers from different areas of the country to confirm that was standard protocol and not just specific to California. They each said that they would immediately notify their chain of command through official channels.

For the first two hours, Cantrell conducted the investigation herself. It was then that she called dispatch.

According to a SLO officer speaking on conditions of anonymity (for fear of losing their job) stated that the chief asked dispatch to call her back from her cell phone.

According to that officer, it was an attempt to keep the information off of a recorded line. The dispatcher took the chief’s information about her missing gun.

The dispatcher, Christine Steeb, said that the information was taken on a non-recorded line because of issues with the city’s phone system.

“The call fell off so I called her back on my cell phone,’ Steeb said. 

The dispatch log shows a call for lost property at 2:09 pm.

The man identified from the restaurant’s surveillance video was Skeeter Carlos Mangan, 30, of Los Osos. In the video he was clean shaven and balding.

Just before 7 pm, a group of detectives were sent to a home after an officer told them a man who lived there resembled the man in the video. The dispatch log, however, showed that they were dispatched to the El Pollo Loco for a lost property report.

The large group of law enforcement in front of his house drew the man’s attention. He came out to ask the officers what was going on. It was noted by the detectives that this man had a full beard and moustache.

According to the homeowner, Detectives Dickel and Walsh told him that they knew he had stolen the chief’s pistol and demanded to know where it was. The man claimed to have been at a doctor’s appointment with his family in Atacadero and nowhere near the restaurant in question.

At that point, his wife and children came out and spoke with police. His wife offered to call the doctor to confirm that they were telling the truth about their whereabouts at the time of the theft. Detectives told her no.

She also stated that she heard several of the officers saying that her husband was “clearly not the clean-shaven man seen in the video.”

Detective Walsh then asked him if they could search the home and he asked if they had a warrant.

“Jason Dickel said I was on probation and he did not need a warrant,” the man said. “I told him I had court documents showing it was another family member who was on probation, but he did not want to see the documents. He said, ‘you have the gun and we are going to get it.’”

The officers entered the home without a warrant. They allegedly kicked in the door to the parent’s bedroom. They did not find the gun. They did, however, arrest the man and his wife for child neglect. According to the officers, the house was unclean.

The children were placed into county custody. According to man’s wife, the girls, ages 7 and 9, were kept at the police station until approximately 2 pm the next day.

To support the removal of the children, county social worker Carrie Bailey, claimed that a photograph was taken of paraphernalia was taken in the children’s bedroom. It was actually taken in the parent’s room.

Cal Coast News asked Debra Barriger, deputy county counsel, about that discrepancy. She claimed that the county is not permitted to disclose information regarding child custody cases.

The next day, Mangan’s (the man in the surveillance video) brother-in-law, Sean Greenwood called the police department to inform them that he and Mangan had the chief’s gun. Chief Cantrell dispatched officers to retrieve the firearm. It is unlikely that Mangan will face charges.

San Luis Obispo City Manager Derek Johnson said that the incident does not meet any of the thresholds for prosecution.

Finally, the city conducted an investigation into the incident and found Cantrell violated two department policies. One of the policies states:

“A secondary handgun must be carried concealed at all times and in a manner that prevents unintentional cocking, discharge or loss of physical control.”

The other department policy that was violated is a rule on following department safety standards and safe working practices.

City officials opted to punish Cantrell by fining her $1,598, which is the equivalent of two days of pay. Cantrell will also receive documentation in her personnel file.

Chief Cantrell must also undergo training in firearm safety practices and hold a discussion with all members of the police department about the incident and the lessons learned that apply to all officers who carry firearms.

Johnson said that Cantrell will keep her job and that he continues to have confidence in her.

“I continue to have confidence in Chief Cantrell’s leadership of the police department in a positive and professional manner ensuring a workplace and community that is safe and devoted to the highest level and standards of service. I have no doubts that this experience will drive Chief Cantrell to be even more vigilant, in both her leadership of the department and her own personal conduct,” Johnson stated.

Johnson said she did the right thing.

“Chief Cantrell displayed integrity throughout the incident, which is consistent with the high standards she sets for herself and her department. She immediately reported the incident, took full responsibility, initiated an investigation and ensured the firearm was added to the national database. All these factors weighed heavily in making my decision on corrective measures moving forward.”

Cantrell has been police chief in San Luis Obispo since January 2016. She previously spent 21 years with the Mesa, Arizona, Police Department, where she rose from traffic and patrol duty through numerous positions to assistant chief of the administrative service bureau.

Chief Cantrell is voluntarily attending training on firearms safety practices. While this error was egregious, an error that a 25-year veteran of law enforcement should not make, is it forgivable? Should the chief lose her job? Should she be reprimanded or suspended? Is her apology enough punishment?

It makes me think of my time in the military, which is obviously quite a different ballgame.

For any of you who ever conducted airborne operations at Fort Bragg, NC, you are familiar with the different drop zones (DZ) there. One of the more unique drop zones is St. Mere Eglise. It is the only one of the DZs that are bordered by civilian property. Plank Road runs east to west on the south side of the zone. On the other side of Plank Road are civilian housing developments. On the west end of St. Mere Eglise is a swampy area where two creeks converge.

One night in 1999, we were conducting a tactical airborne operation at St. Mere Eglise. This means full gear, to include weapons and ruck sacks. The C-130 aircraft were traveling east across the DZ. With prevailing winds and directions of travel, the light went green just to the west of the DZ, right over the swamp.

The jump went according to plans, until…

We were about two hours out from the last paratrooper exiting an aircraft. The DZ is roughly two miles long and ¾ of a mile across. So, it is not unusual for it take an hour or two for everyone to return to the assembly area for chute turn in.

This particular evening, we sent a few vehicles out to start looking for the stragglers. We got to the far west end of the DZ and we saw flashlights. Pulling up to see what was going on, we discovered several paratroopers searching through the trees and brush. They were soaking wet.

Upon making contact, we found out that one of them members of that stick (the line of paratroopers that exit the aircraft on each pass) lost his M16A2 rifle. The prop blast, accompanied by a loosely fitted weapon sling, contributed to the weapon falling.

We immediately notified range control and the military police. They shut the drop zone down. We were on lockdown. No one could leave.

We brought in flood lights, we brought everyone over from the assembly area and spread out at double-arm interval and started searching for that rifle. The search started in full at approximately 2100. It was finally recovered around 0400 the next morning, found in about 1 foot of water at the edge of the swamp formed by the convergence of Puppy and McDuffie creeks. 

Why was it such a big deal to recover that one weapon? It is because weapons security and accountability are a very big deal.

The reality is this, the M16A2 could fire a single shot (semi-automatic) or a 3-round burst. Only the military could legally maintain that type of weaponry.

If that rifle had landed on the opposite side of the road, it could have wound up in the hands of a civilian who would call the military police, and have it returned to the base. But it could have also been found by someone who planned to do evil with it.

Weapons security is no doubt of equal importance for our law enforcement communities.