SLO mayor blasts ‘keyboard cowards’ as police chief receives support over lost gun

San Luis Obispo’s police chief received an outpouring of public support at Tuesday’s City Council meeting — and the mayor issued a sharp rebuke to online critics — days after the city’s top law enforcement official lost her gun at a local restaurant.

About a dozen speakers, some representing diversity groups, expressed their appreciation in public comment for Chief Deanna Cantrell’s leadership and how she handled the situation. Cantrell immediately apologized for the error in a video released hours after she lost the gun.

Mayor Heidi Harmon also blasted online critics of the chief, calling them “keyboard cowards” trying to be as hateful as possible.

Harmon said Cantrell has done a fine job and “set the tone for policing and leadership in general,” noting her 25-year law enforcement career, including in Mesa, Arizona. Cantrell has had no prior history of wrongdoing or misconduct.

“She made a mistake and didn’t intentionally harm anyone, which is more than I can say about those keyboard cowards who are taking this as an opportunity to be as hateful and bigoted as possible, and that’s unacceptable,” said Harmon, looking into the public access camera broadcasting the meeting. “Adding your voice to how this situation was handled is one thing, and we welcome that.

“But taking this as an opportunity to amplify misogyny and homophobia is something else altogether, and it won’t be honored in this community and in these chambers.”

SLO Police Chief Deanna Cantrell reported leaving her gun behind in a bathroom stall at El Pollo Loco on Wednesday. The gun has been recoverd after a Los Osos man, Skeeter Carlos Mangan, turned it in. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Cantrell’s supporters cited her initiatives that include: developing an academy to inspire girls to learn about and consider fire and police careers, establishing liaisons with minority groups in the community and providing effective security for Women’s March rallies, among other community building efforts.

“I think we all know people make mistakes, and when a public official makes a mistake and their response is forthrightness and honesty, then I continue to have faith in our public officials,” SLO resident Erin Foote said. “I applaud, honor and respect Chief Cantrell’s response to the mistake she made. ... I think you’ll be hard pressed to find a police chief as well liked by the community and her officers, and the community would be worse off if we don’t have her.”

Cantrell lost her gun July 10 while using the bathroom at an El Pollo Loco on Los Osos Valley Road. The gun allegedly was discovered and taken by 30-year-old Skeeter Carlos Mangan, who used the unisex restroom just after Cantrell.

SLOPD Capt. Chris Staley said an investigation into the matter was completed and forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office for consideration of charges.

No charges had been filed as of Wednesday morning.

pollo loco.png
SLO Police Chief Deanna Cantrell reported leaving her gun behind in a bathroom stall at El Pollo Loco on Wednesday. The gun has been recovered after a Los Osos man, Skeeter Carlos Mangan, turned it in. Courtesy photo

City attorney Christine Dietrick and Human Resources Director Monica Irons will make a recommendation on any personnel-related disciplinary action that Cantrell may face.

City Manager Derek Johnson will decide what punishment may be appropriate, saying he’d take into consideration the approach taken regionally by other cities where law enforcement officials have lost their guns.

SLO resident Bob Shanbrom said of the chief: “Deanna has transformed one of our society’s most important institutions.”

“Her officers are empathetic, well-trained and professional in my encounters with them and watching them at work,” Shanbrom added. “They move with non-escalating body language. They made my particular neighborhood much more secure from burglary.”

Dietrick said a city investigation has been expedited because of Cantrell’s voluntary cooperation and clarity of the incident details. Cantrell said she expects to face disciplinary scrutiny.

“We take this matter very seriously,” Johnson said. “... I’m aware that some may not agree with the decision. I will share my decision with the public.”

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune

Nick Wilson covers the city of San Luis Obispo and has been a reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo since 2004. He also writes regularly about K-12 education, Cal Poly, Morro Bay and Los Osos. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley and is originally from Ojai.