Department History

Historical Contributions by Gary L. Hoving

Early History

The earliest inhabitants of Arroyo Grande Valley were the northern or Obispeno Chumash Indians. The Arroyo Grande area was still occupied by Chumash Indians at the time of contact with the first Spanish explorer, Juan Cabrillo. During the colonial settlement of California, the Arroyo Grande Valley became separated into two major ranchos which were granted by the Mexican government around 1840. In the mid-1860’s, a severe drought decimated the cattle population, forcing the large ranchos to subdivide property and sell smaller parcels to new settlers for agricultural uses. In 1863, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors established the township of Arroyo Grande.

The town of Arroyo Grande was founded in 1897 in southern San Luis Obispo County. Arroyo Grande was one of the many western towns springing up along the west coast in a state that was slightly over thirty years old. Like many small western towns, Arroyo Grande employed a night watchman to protect the community prior to the formation of a police department.

Henry Lewelling, the first Town Marshal, was hired around November 1903. He came to Arroyo Grande after having four years experience as a Deputy Sheriff. Sadly, Mr. Lewelling met his death before the end of his fifth month.

Lewelling was called to quell a disturbance about midnight Sunday, March 27, 1904, when George Roberts was firing a gun in the downtown streets. The problem was resolved, but Lewelling was called on Monday afternoon when the shooting began again. The peace officer again stopped the action and then followed the suspect into the Capitol Saloon. Just as Lewelling entered the door, he was shot in the chest by Roberts.

The outlaw fled for the hills and was closely pursued by Constable Harry Haskins, Duke Stovall, John Lyman and others. Deputy Sheriff Cooper of Oceano and Constable Cox soon joined in the chase. Deputy Sheriff McFaddin was telephoned for in San Luis Obispo.

Doctors Paulding and Crawford attended to Lewelling at the Ryan Hotel. The shot entered below the heart and was removed from the back by the doctors. Lewelling endured 30 hours of intense pain before dying on Tuesday night at 10:30 p.m. Lewelling left behind a wife and two children.

The suspect was tracked to the home of Mrs. Cordoza in the Grover tract. Deputy McFaddin solicited a surrender after a lengthy negotiation and took him to the county jail.

City Incorporation

Arroyo Grande was incorporated as a city on July 10, 1911. Frank E. Bennett was the first mayor and C.B. Doty became the first City Marshal.

The tiny one-roomed jail over looking downtown Arroyo Grande from Le Point Street is known as the Hoosegow. It was believed to have been constructed around 1910 for use by the County Constable. One of the first orders of business, for the new city, was to correspond with the County Board of Supervisors to ask for the privilege of using the branch county jail. This request was recorded in the City Council minutes of July 26, 1911.

The jail is of concrete construction measuring about eight inches thick. Besides the door, there are only three other openings in the structure. These are very high windows about ten inches by twelve inches cris-crossed with metal bars. The single entrance is constructed of a heavy iron door which is secured by and oversized padlock.

Fortunately, the jail has been preserved and is surrounded by a small park maintained by the City of Arroyo Grande known as the "Hoosegow Park".

Arroyo Grande had a wooden jail house located a few blocks away on the creek bank prior to construction of the "Hoosegow". That jail was the object of scorn and ridicule and afforded the "saloon crowd" numerous laughs when one of their subjects broke out of the flimsy jail. Individuals locked-up usually escaped quickly and popped up on the city street to jibe at the town marshal. On several occasions prisoners simply skipped town taking along the iron chains that were meant to hold them inside the shanty.

The citizens of the newly formed city of Arroyo Grande voted on January 21, 1912, to outlaw alcohol seven years before prohibition. The law was passed with 193 votes cast, 107 for the law and 84 opposed.

Over the years, Arroyo Grande has experienced its share of problems. In a 1914 election, 179 citizens voted to dis-incorporate the city while 172 voted to remain a city. However, the law required a two-thirds majority to pass such a law. Another election was held in 1924 to dis-incorporate, but it too, was defeated.

The city offices, including the Police Department operated out of a converted house at the corner of Branch and Mason Streets, across from the current City Hall, from about 1911 until 1950. It was the 1902 home built by Tom Steel that was converted for the Cities’ use at a cost of two thousand dollars.The old house provided office space for all of the city departments.

The City Hall and Police Station were moved to 214 E. Branch Street on December 18, 1950. One room was used as the council chambers at night and as the Justice Court in the daytime. The Police Department had an office in the building and shared a jail cell built in the basement with the County Constable. 

Noteworthy Events

Many noteworthy events occurred throughout the years, some serious and others not so serious. For example, the dance hall had gotten completely out of hand according to the city council. So on February 4, 1931, the council purchased a tear gas gun for Police Chief C. H. Branch to deal with the problem.

Controversy struck when Police Chief Hackler arrested State Senator Clarence Ward for drunk driving on Monday, November 22, 1948. Sheriff’s Deputies refused to book the senator when brought to the county jail by the Chief. Under-Sheriff Charles Bowden later testified in court that the senator was not drunk when brought in for booking. The Chief released the Senator on $250 bail after three hours in his custody.

Senator Ward acted as his own attorney during a jury trial before Judge Paul K. Jackson. The Chief was accused of "gestapo tactics" during the arrest. Ward was ultimately found not guilty.

On February 19, 1949, Chief Hackler was relieved of duty by the City Council. They appointed Derril Waiters as interim chief followed by Francis Carr until another chief could be appointed. The council did not feel that the city’s two remaining policemen, L. G. Williams and Joseph L. Cooper, were qualified for the position of chief.

In 1959, the Police Department consisted of the Chief, one Sergeant, two Patrol Officers, and one police car. A red light mounted on a pole atop a downtown building was once used to notify officers that they were needed, was still in place and used as a backup system for communications.

John Richardson, long time Police Chief, jokingly reflects on the directions given to a traveler seeking to find Arroyo Grande. He was told, "take the highway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, when you receive your first traffic ticket, you’ve found Arroyo Grande". In the early 50’s the Police Department nearly met its annual budget with the revenue generated from traffic citations. With the highway traveling on what is currently Traffic Way, this was a rather easy task, as few motorists slowed from their highway speed while driving through town.

The Police Officer’s uniforms were changed on July 1, 1980. Chief Clark changed the colors from the Highway Patrol tan to the navy blue which is more associated with City Police Departments throughout the country. The Chief also cited financial reasons for the change, since the blue uniforms cost less.

Police Station

In order to meet the needs of a growing community, the Police Department expanded personnel which required more office space. A Police Facility was built at the corner of Halcyon and Cornwall in a former phone company building. It was officially opened with a dedication ceremony held on June 16, 1973.Chief of Police Jim Clark and his staff gave tours of the new facility to about 500 citizens during their open house.

The Halcyon Road facility served the community well, however, by 1989, it had been outgrown. A great deal of consideration was given to the available options to meet the space requirements of the Police Department. Those options included the replacement of the building, constructing a new building to be shared by the Sheriff’s Department and to expand the existing station. The final conclusion was to expand the existing station. This was accomplished by closing a portion of Cornwall Street and expanding on the south side of the building. By an action of the city Council, the newly enlarged station would be known as the James C. Clark Justice Center who officially retired on June 23, 1989.

An open house and dedication ceremony for the newly expanded police facility was held on June 26, 1990.A group of about 300 citizens attended the event with everyone sharing the pride in one of the City’s most important buildings. At 7,700 square feet, the station is more than twice the original size. The remodel and expansion cost $800,000 and is expected to serve the Police Department’s 29 staff members very well.


Taking over command of the Police Department, in a newly remodeled facility was Lester "Rick" TerBorch, Jr. He took command on June 19, 1989 after competing against a field of forty-six candidates. TerBorch came to the Central Coast after working for the Simi Valley Police Department, where he had worked since 1975. He had risen through the ranks to the position of Lieutenant in Simi Valley. TerBorch holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Cal-State University at Long Beach and is a graduate of the California Law Enforcement Command College.

December 29, 2005 marked the retirement of Chief Rick TerBorch, who served as the Arroyo Grande Police chief since June 19, 1989. The City Manager and Council selected Cal Poly Police Chief Anthony Aeilts as the new Police Chief and he took office January 9, 2006. Chief Aeilts had previously served as a consultant for the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training and as a Lieutenant with the Chico Police Department.

Chief Aeilts tenure was cut short by an unanticipated need for him to relocate to northern California for family reasons. Chief Aeilts retired on June 7, 2007 and during a nationwide search for his successor Police Commander Steve Andrews served as the Interim Chief of Police. The search ultimately resulted in the selection Chief Steven N. Annibali of the Ephatra Police Department in Pennsylvania. Mr. Annibali assumed the office of Arroyo Grande Chief of Police on August 27, 2007.

Chief Annibali’s law enforcement career began in 1978 and has spanned the country from California, to Colorado, Pennsylvania and back to California. He began his career with the Los Angeles Police Department and served many years with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department rising through the ranks to Lieutenant. Chief Annibali was recruited to Colorado and later served as Chief of Police in the ski area of Breckenridge, Colorado. He served as Breckenridge’s Chief for just over three years before accepting the Chief’s position in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. After nearly seven years in Ephrata, Chief Annibali returned to his home state of California in August, 2007 when he was selected to serve as Arroyo Grande’s next Chief of Police.

In 2007, City and Police Department staff began the process of surveying current and future needs and studying options for expanding the current police facility. A feasibility study for expanding the police facility was conducted by an area architectural firm, and conceptual drawing for adding nearly 3,500 square feet were reviewed. Finalizing plans for addressing the need for additional space in the police facility was a major goal for Chief Annibali and the expanded and renovated facility was completed in 2014. Chief Annibali retired in 2017.

In 2017, Commander Beau D. Pryor was appointed as Chief of Police. Chief Pryor began his career with the Arroyo Grande Police Department in 1994, as a part-time Reserve Police Officer. He became a full-time Sworn Police Officer in 1995. Throughout his career, Chief Pryor was promoted to Senior Police Officer, Police Sergeant, and Police Commander. Chief Pryor also served in a variety of specialized assignments including Motorcycle Traffic Officer, Special Response Team member, Bicycle Patrol Officer, Field Training Officer, Detective, and Detective Sergeant.

Commander Michael T. Martinez was appointed as Chief of Police in 2020. Chief Michael Martinez is a lifelong resident of the Central Coast. He began his career with the Grover Beach Police Department after graduating from the Allan Hancock College Police Academy in 2002. In 2005, Chief Martinez joined the Arroyo Grande Police Department where he spent the next eleven years serving in various assignments including Field Training Officer, Motor Traffic Officer, School Resource Officer, Firearms Instructor, Detective Sergeant, and Regional SWAT team leader. In 2012, Chief Martinez was promoted to Commander where he supervised the department’s Support and Patrol Services divisions. 

Chief Martinez holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Organizational Leadership from Bellevue University and an Associate of Science in Administration of Justice from Allan Hancock College. He is a recent graduate of the Los Angeles Police Department West Point Leadership program and is one of three California Police Chiefs to attend the FBI National Command Course in July of this year. Chief Martinez is a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the California Police Chiefs Association, and the Allan Hancock College Law Enforcement Academy Advisory Committee. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the Transitions Mental Health Association and the Five Cities Homeless Coalition.