Former SLO chief Deanna Cantrell to retire from policing after cancer diagnosis

Chief Deanna Cantrell


Former San Luis Obispo police chief Deanna Cantrell revealed she is battling cancer for the second time and will retire from law enforcement by the end of the 2022, after spending more than 28 years in the profession.

Cantrell is currently the police chief of the Bay Area city of Fairfield. She has served as Fairfield’s chief since shortly after departing San Luis Obispo in the fall of 2020.

Earlier this year, Cantrell was diagnosed with breast cancer, marking her second bout with cancer. Additionally, Cantrell lost her sister to breast cancer 11 years ago, she said in a video announcing her retirement. 

“This recent diagnosis has really accelerated my plans for the future,” Cantrell said. “I am leaving the profession that I adore with deep satisfaction of knowing that I’m leaving policing better than I found it.”


Much of Cantrell’s law enforcement career was spent in Mesa, Arizona. Cantrell spent 21 years as a member of the Mesa force. 

Former San Luis Obispo City Manager Katie Lichtig hired Cantrell, selecting her over SLO Police Department’s two captains at the time, who had been rotating as acting chief. Cantrell served as SLO’s police chief from Jan. 2016 through Sept. 2020. 

Cantrell’s tenure in SLO included multiple controversies, ranging from the chief losing her gun in a restaurant bathroom to her handling of Black Lives Matter protests. 

In July 2019, Cantrell left her pistol, a Glock with a 6-round magazine, on a toilet paper holder in the bathroom of El Pollo Loco in San Luis Obispo. A short time later, Cantrell realized she did not have her weapon and returned to the restaurant bathroom. The pistol was not there.

Cantrell claimed that she immediately reported her gun stolen, but several officers said her attempt to cover up the theft of her gun risked officer safety and led to the search of the home of a man incorrectly identified as the person suspected of taking the chief’s gun.

Surveillance footage showed a clean shaven man entering the restaurant bathroom after Cantrell left. After receiving a tip that the man in the video resembled Cheyne Orndoff, police descended on Orndoff’s home, even though he looked nothing like the suspect. Orndoff had a full beard and mustache.

Without a warrant, police searched Orndoff’s home, put his daughters, then 7 and 9, in foster care and arrested him for child neglect because of a dirty house and paraphernalia they found in his locked bedroom.

In Aug. 2019, Cantrell’s personal car was stolen from Santa Margarita. Officers found the car six hours later in Daly City with a naked woman inside. 

Following the string of incidents, which also included Cantrell throwing her support behind Officer Josh Walsh, who shot and killed a dog while responding to an inaccurate burglary report, Cantrell began applying for jobs with other cities. While Cantrell was already involved in the Fairfield recruitment process, she dealt with scrutiny over the July 2020 arrest of SLO protest leader Tianna Arata.

Officers arrested Arata after she led approximately 300 protesters onto Highway 101, blocking all lanes in both directions for nearly an hour. In one incident on the highway, a protester threw a skateboard at the back window of a car. The window shattered, with pieces landing on a 4-year-old boy, who was unharmed. Protesters said the driver had struck a protester.

Later in 2020, shortly after beginning her job as Fairfield chief, Cantrell again encountered controversy over the arrest of anti-police protesters, this time at a city council meeting. Fairfield police arrested the protesters for disturbing the meeting after Cantrell presented the findings of an investigation into a Sept. 2012 fatal shooting. The investigation found no criminal wrongdoing on the part of the officers who were involved.

In Cantrell’s retirement announcement, she thanked the Fairfield community and city officials, as well as former city manager Stefan Chatwin, who hired her. 

“I am profoundly grateful to the Fairfield City Council, to city staff, to the police department staff and, of course, to you, the community, that has welcomed me and worked alongside me and my staff with open arms,” Cantrell said in her video announcement. “And, I am also thankful for our previous city manager, Stefan Chatwin, who believed that I was the right person for Fairfield and really gave me one of the greatest opportunities in my career.”

Fairfield’s interim city manager, David Gassaway, has selected Police Captain Dan Marshall to succeed Cantrell upon her retirement. Cantrell said she agrees with the decision to appoint Marshall as the next chief.