National City’s top cop announces retirement

NATIONAL CITY, Calif. -- Law enforcement veteran Manuel Rodriguez, who has headed the National City Police Department for five years, will step down this coming spring, the agency announced Thursday.

Rodriguez's retirement will culminate a three-decade career in local law enforcement. After 20 years with the San Diego Police Department, the 1977 Sweetwater High School graduate returned to his hometown as an NCPD captain in 2005. He was named assistant chief of the South Bay department two years later, then chief in 2013.

Assistant Chief Jose Tellez will assume leadership of the agency when Rodriguez takes his leave in March, according to city officials.

"I truly appreciate the privilege and opportunity to serve the community I grew up in and will continue to work in partnership with everyone to increase the quality of life for the entire National City community," Rodriguez said.

Saying the 59-year-old outgoing chief "will be greatly missed," National City Mayor Ron Morrison praised Rodriguez's "leadership, service to the community and (commitment to) developing great leadership from within."

"Under Chief Rodriguez's leadership, the department has scored many successes, including implementing succession planning, deployment of body-worn cameras and the training for the use of (drug-overdose antidote) Narcan, and an increase in community policing," Morrison said.

The announcement of Rodriguez's pending departure comes in the aftermath of a challenging period for him and his rank-and-file. Last summer, the in-custody death of a mentally ill man following a combative arrest prompted a series of raucous city hall demonstrations that included calls for Rodriguez's dismissal and led to arrests of outraged protesters who decried a perceived lack of transparency and accountability on the part of the city's police force.

In September, District Attorney Summer Stephan cleared National City police and sheriff's jail personnel in the death of 40-year-old Earl McNeil, a one-time gang member who was under the influence of methamphetamine and had been fighting with officers when he stopped breathing and suffered heart failure in May.