By KAREN VELIE
For more than a year, Cheyne Orndoff has asked the county to correct an error that lists him as a convicted man on probation in a law enforcement database, when he was actually the victim of the crime.
Three weeks ago, that mistake, and the belief by police that the bearded Orndoff was the clean-shaven man who hours earlier picked up Police Chief Deanna Cantrell’s lost pistol, led to his arrest and his children placed in foster care.
Cantrell left her loaded Glock pistol on the toilet paper holder in the bathroom of an El Pollo Loco restaurant on July 10. The chief determined a clean-shaven man videotaped walking into the bathroom after her, had walked away with her gun. An officer then misidentified the suspect as Orndoff.
In an attempt to find her gun, Cantrell sent a group of detectives to Orndoff’s home. However, she didn’t list his O’Conner Way address in the police log or inform area law enforcement she had lost her gun.
The officers and detectives descended on Orndoff’s home, and asked his permission to search his house even though several officers noted he looked nothing like the suspect, he said.
Orndoff said no, and explained that he was not at the restaurant and he did not take the chief’s gun. Detectives Jason Dickle and Suzie Walsh declared because he was on probation they did not need a warrant for a search, Orndoff said.
Orndoff told the officers he had documentation that he was not on probation in his car near where the officers were standing, he said.
“Jason Dickel said I was on probation and he did not need a warrant,” Orndoff 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 in to get it.’”
After SLO police officers raided his home, they put his daughters, 7 and 9, in foster care, his 5-year-old dog Princess in the pound, and arrested him and his wife for child neglect because of a dirty house.
Two weeks after Dickel searched the home for the chief’s gun, Cantrell promoted him to sergeant.
The error that led to the search and arrest started in early 2017. Police officers arrested Cheyne Orndoff’s brother Cole Orndoff for drug related offenses and for impersonating Cheyne Orndoff. A few months later, Cole Orndoff pleaded no contest to five misdemeanors charges, including a count of impersonation.
Judge Craig van Rooyen sentenced Cole Orndoff to time served and three years informal probation, according to court records. Cole Orndoff’s informal probation did not include search terms.
In logging Cole Orndoff’s conviction and probation into the county criminal justice information system, it appears that either an employee of the superior court or of the district attorney’s office wrongly listed Cheyne Orndoff as the guilty party and not the victim.
In order to protect victims of crime, in 2008, the California Legislature passed Marsy’s Law. The law expanded the rights of victims “to be treated with fairness and respect for his or her privacy and dignity, and to be free from intimidation, harassment, and abuse, throughout the criminal or juvenile justice process.”
For more than two years, Cheyne Orndoff has been trailed by the false probation report. In mid-2018, he was working as a counselor at Templeton High School, but was terminated because of the misinformation in the county system, he said.
Cheyne Orndoff petitioned the court to correct the record to show he was the victim in the case and not on probation, but while the court has confirmed he is not on probation, he remains listed on the county criminal justice information system as on probation.
“I spoke with a DA employee three times asking her to correct the error,” Cheyne Orndoff said. “I couldn’t get it corrected. I keep documents in my car showing I am not on probation.”
Cheyne Orndoff graduated summa cum laude from Cal Poly, with a degree in psychology in March 2018. He then applied for employment to multiple public and private organizations, including county social services, but was rejected because of the probation error.
“I can’t get a job because of this bogus bench probation,” he said. “There are times, I just feel like giving up.”
In response to a CalCoastNews article about Cantrell’s efforts to keep the news of her lost gun quiet despite her false claim that she immediately reported the stolen gun to area law enforcement, city staff altered the dispatch log of the lost gun incident. In both renditions, however, the incident number remains the same.
A July 22 version of the July 10 dispatch log for the lost firearm lists Jason Dickel as the officer in charge, officers dispatched at 6:42 p.m., and the call closed at 12:19 a.m. the next day. A week later, City Attorney Christine Dietrick provided an altered lost gun report that lists Chris Chitty as the officer in charge, officers dispatched at 7:22 p.m., and the call closed at 8:25 p.m.
Dietrick said changes in the log, even weeks after the incident, are permitted.
“The public log is a living document, meaning that running it after the original is posted on our website could show changes in the clearance code, listed times, officers, etc. when the call is reopened,” Dietrick wrote in an email explaining the changes to the public document. “In other words, as I understand it, each run of the log yields a snapshot in time as it relates to a particular matter until such time as the particular incident is finally closed.”
In response to the CalCoastNews article which reported that Cheyne Orndoff was not on probation, the city said in a press release that he was on probation and the CalCoastNews article was inaccurate.
A reporter responded by emailing documentation that Cheyne Orndoff was the victim in the case and not on probation to Cantrell, Dietrick and the district attorney’s office.
Shortly afterwards, Dietrick responded by contacting the Tribune, which wrote an article supporting the chief’s claim that her officers had “a good reason to enter the property without a warrant even though Cheyne Orndoff was not on probation.”
In support of moving ahead with criminal actions against Cheyne Orndoff, Dietrick said that the inaccurate county computer-generated report provides justification for the warrantless search and the use of evidence found in the home to attain a conviction for child neglect.
“Based on all facts currently available to us, the city believes that the detectives involved acted appropriately and in reasonable, good faith reliance on the official information available to them at the time,” Dietrick said. “We remain grateful that they were able to secure the safety and well-being of the children involved.”
In a series of hearings scheduled this month, attorneys are expected to argue whether or not the officers violated Cheyne Orndoff’s civil rights when they raided his home based on an inaccurate county report. In an attempt to raise money for his defense and for work needed at his home, Cheyne Orndoff recently posted a plea for assistance on GoFundMe.