SLO police hunting for chief’s gun had good reason to search home without warrant, city says

A clerical error in a law enforcement database led San Luis Obispo detectives hunting for the police chief’s lost gun to enter a local family’s home without a search warrant because they justifiably believed that the man was on probation, city officials said this week.

Police were following a tip that the father at the home, located just outside city limits, could have been the person who took the chief’s misplaced gun from a local restaurant on July 10.

Upon investigating that afternoon, however, police determined that 33-year-old Cheyne Eric Orndoff didn’t have the chief’s gun.

But they arrested him and his wife, Vanessa Marie Bedroni, on felony child endangerment charges related to their children, ages 7 and 9.

Orndoff told The Tribune in Facebook messages that he believes police acted improperly.

The city contends, however, that police pursued the appropriate path to determine accurate criminal information.

“Our officers acted properly and relied on official information available to them,” City Attorney Christine Dietrick told The Tribune.

Orndoff, however, said that “regardless of who got in trouble for assuming my identity, the police outright refused to look at documentation that would have kept them from violating our rights.”

City claims vs. defendant who feels wronged

Dietrick said that when detectives researched an official law enforcement database called the Criminal Justice Information System (also referred to as CJIS), the information showed that Orndoff was on probation for a past crime with the condition that his home could be searched without a warrant.

That information turned out not to be true after further review of court records in collaboration with the District Attorney’s office, Dietrick acknowledged.

“No facts show that detectives acted in any way but appropriately and in accordance with the law,” Dietrick said.

SLO Police Chief Deanna Cantrell reported leaving her gun behind in a bathroom stall at El Pollo Loco. That incident led to a search of a SLO man’s home without a warrant, which is a point of controversy as his case moves forward. Joe Johnston

Orndoff said he badly misses his children, who have been taken away from him, and his job status has been put in jeopardy by his arrest.

Orndoff and Bedroni each were charged on two counts of felony child endangerment after the search conducted by SLO police detectives Jason Dickel and Suzie Walsh. The department has not said what about the condition of the home led them to make the arrests.

Dietrick said she expects the process will play out in court with evidence presented on both sides, likely including arguments related to the search.

But Dietrick cited case law that shows that if officers believe a warrantless search is allowable based on “a court-maintained, computer-generated search,” the evidence collected inside a defendant’s home can’t be suppressed in court.

Orndoff’s public defender, Mitchel West, didn’t return a call for comment.

The case will be prosecuted by the DA’s Office.

Man’s brother impersonated him in past crime

SLOPD investigators went to Ordnoff’s home about four hours after Chief Deanna Cantrell inadvertently left her gun in an El Pollo Loco bathroom on July 10.

When Cantrell returned 20 minutes later to look for the lost weapon, it was gone, which sparked an urgent police search for a man revealed in surveillance footage, who turned out to be Skeeter Mangan of Los Osos.

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SLO Police Chief Deanna Cantrell reported leaving her gun behind in a bathroom stall at El Pollo Loco on July 10. The gun has been recovered after a Los Osos man, Skeeter Carlos Mangan, turned it in. Mangan is pictured in this surveillance image. Courtesy photo

Mangan turned the gun in two days later, according to police.

But while the investigators were searching for the gun that afternoon, the Morro Bay Police Department tipped off SLOPD to similarity in appearance between the man captured on surveillance and Orndoff, with whom they’d had previous contact, according to SLO officials.

Cantrell said that after initially reviewing restaurant camera footage, she assigned the case to a SLOPD officer because she was the victim of a stolen gun.

Cantrell said she was unaware of details of the investigation at Orndoff’s home.

“I didn’t make any decisions or know what was going on in regards to the arrests,” Cantrell said.

In a twist to the saga, a review of court records showed that Cheyne Orndoff’s brother, Cole Paul Orndoff, falsely impersonated him in 2017 by using his name in a drug-related arrest.

Cole Orndoff was sentenced in the case under a no contest plea agreement for impersonating someone else in attempt to make them liable for a crime — and he is on bench probation through March 2020 for that conviction.

Court documents show that Cheyne Orndoff’s name was an alias Cole used, possibly creating the database confusion, though the origin of the mixup is unclear.

“The manner in which the CJIS system documents demographics in case statuses involving individuals with aliases likely is the cause of the situation,” Assistant District Attorney Eric Dobroth said.

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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.