As of Tuesday, Larry Esquivel was no longer the chief of the Tracy Police Department, and the reaction — including calls for the resignation of the city manager — has been swift and emotional.
City Manager Randall Bradley confirmed at 5 p.m. Tuesday that Esquivel was no longer in command of the police force but would not say whether the chief resigned or was fired.
“I’m sorry, Mike, it’s a personnel issue and I can’t comment any further,” Bradley said.
Esquivel, who became Tracy’s top cop in February 2016, was seen walking from City Hall back to his office across the street at about 4:45 p.m. The members of the police department were informed just before 5 p.m.
Mayor Robert Rickman did not respond to requests for comment or clarification, and Councilwoman Juana Dement said she did not wish to comment out of respect for Esquivel’s privacy.
Two other councilwomen, Nancy Young and Rhodesia Ransom, said without equivocation that Esquivel was fired. They took to a public demonstration Wednesday, organized by Young, to express their knowledge of the events and their deep misgivings and call for Bradley’s resignation.
“I am deeply disturbed by the termination of Police Chief Esquivel by the city manager,” Young told a crowd of about three dozen. “This action was not taken in consultation with all the members of the City Council. No evidence has been shown or produced, even in closed session, about what would cause this sudden termination of a respected leader of our police force.”
The city manager of Tracy has the right to hire and fire department heads as part of the scope of responsibility granted by city law and the City Council. Young said she understood that but believed decisions about such a high-profile position should include input from council members.
Ransom said Esquivel’s dismissal did not surprise her.
“Like many of you, I am disappointed about Chief Larry Esquivel’s departure from our beloved city,” she said.
She said the chief was bullied in public and behind the scenes.
“Our city’s legal team, city manager and the council majority are going to want me to tell you that this is a personnel matter that I cannot discuss,” Ransom said. “You can expect to be led to believe that this is a management issue and no further details are available, but I will tell you firsthand what I know. This is not an employment or management issue, this is a political issue involving an employee, and that is very different.”
Ransom said the chief’s leadership did not match the narrative being told by the other members of City Council.
“You have all seen or read about what is happening in our city,” she told the citizens. “You have watched our mayor publicly criticize and bully the chief of police even for attempting to work collaboratively towards homelessness efforts. Please understand that what you see is magnified tenfold in real life and behind the closed doors that I am privy to.”
Ransom said people should connect the dots, including the sudden dismissal of former City Manager Troy Brown last September.
“Similar to our former city manager who was released from employment, Chief Larry Esquivel did not play politics,” she said. “In our city, which is plagued by bully leadership, it is to your detriment if you are a department leader that refuses to go along with political gamesmanship.”
On Wednesday, Young was adamant that Tracy’s police officers and residents had benefited from Esquivel’s leadership and told the crowd that one more high-ranking position in the city needed to change.
“Given this action, the city manager should resign effective immediately,” she said. “We have got to take our city back and not let our City Hall get overtaken or overrun by political ideology and personal vendettas.”
Earlier in the day on Wednesday, the Tracy Police Officers Association, the union representing the rank-and-file officers, took the unusual step of issuing a statement about the change in leadership.
"The Tracy Police Officers’ Association is extremely disappointed with the City of Tracy’s decision to fire Police Chief Larry Esquivel yesterday,” the statement reads in part. “Chief Esquivel had the full support of our membership. We encourage the citizens of Tracy who support the Tracy Police Officers’ Association and Chief Esquivel to attend the August 21st City Council meeting to share their thoughts with the City Council Members.”
Ransom agreed that citizens need to be heard.
“It is time for the citizens of Tracy to come out of the shadows and speak out,” she said. “Incessant bullying and intimidation tactics perpetrated by the City Council have plagued this city for at least the last two years. It is saddening to see.”
Esquivel would not address questions about his employment or the events leading up Tuesday afternoon. He had only one message for the men and women he commanded for two and a half years.
“I want to not only thank my partnerships, the community members that have been incredible in terms of support for me and our rank and file,” he said by phone Wednesday. “(The officers) are very, very competent at what they do. They are there for the right reason. I know they are going to continue to do a great job because that’s what we were building toward and continue to do. … We’re stronger together, and a lot of stuff that we have been doing and continue to do shows that.”
Because there is as yet no official statement about Esquivel’s departure, including whether he was fired or resigned, the Tracy Press made a public records request Wednesday for the following documents: all direct correspondence and records of communication between Larry Esquivel and all current members of the Tracy City Council; all citizen and city employee complaints filed against Larry Esquivel; a copy of Larry Esquivel’s service contract severance agreement, if they exist; and any nondisclosure agreement recently signed by Larry Esquivel.