Pasadena’s first Hispanic police chief retires

November 7, 2018

Pasadena Police Chief Al Espinoza, the first Hispanic to hold that post, is retiring from the police department effective Nov. 30 after just under two years at the post, according to city personnel documents.

City Council accepted his letter of resignation by a 7-2 vote at a Nov. 6 City Council meeting. But Sammy Casados, one of the two council members who cast the no votes, claimed Espinoza was pressured to leave. Also voting against accepting the resignation was Cody Ray Wheeler.

“I’m not gonna support this. I want you to stay,” Casados said, addressing Espinoza who sat in the front row at the meeting but did not respond to any of the comments.

“You’ve done a great job doing what you’ve done,” Casados said. “Matter of fact, crime is down. I don’t understand why you’re leaving.

“It’s a political thing,” he said. “Chief has done nothing wrong and there’s no basis for this retirement — man’s been forced out.”

Mayor Jeff Wagner, who is a former Houston police chief, interrupted Casados with his gavel and said the council member was out of order.

“Let’s keep personnel information out of this,” Wagner said. “If you read the man’s letter of retirement, you’ll see why the man’s retiring.”

Attempts to reach Espinoza for comment were unsuccessful. The mayor’s office did not respond by presstime.

Casados said in a later interview that he received an email from the city’s human resources director, Daniel Pennington, hours after the council meeting that announced that Pasadena Assistant Chief of Police Josh Bruegger would take over as acting chief effective Nov. 7.

Espinoza did not respond when several council members offered congratulations on his retirement during the opening remarks of the meeting and just before the vote.

Wagner appointed Espinoza after Wagner came into office in June 2017. In January of that year, a federal judge ruled in a voting rights lawsuit that the city had intentionally violated the rights of Hispanic voters and must revert to a 2013 election map for council seats based on eight single-member districts.

Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal’s ruling forced the city to abandon a system of six single-member and two at-large districts.

Pasadena has a Hispanic population of over 60 percent, according to U.S. Census data from 2017.

Before that appointment, Espinoza had served with Pasadena Police Department for almost 40 years.

During the Nov. 6 meeting, council members Don Harrison, Felipe Villarreal, Thomas Schoenbein and Bruce Leamon thanked Espinoza for his decades of service and offered congratulations.

“It was great for the diversity of this city,” Harrison said.

Wheeler thanked Espinoza for his service with Pasadena Police Department but said he would not support his leaving.

“Chief, I don’t think it’s right,” Wheeler said. “I’m not gonna support this. You’ve been a police officer for six years in Pasadena before I was born. I’m not gonna be the one to have you leave.”

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