Mayor Fires Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong
By Ken Epstein
Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao announced this week that she has fired Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong, who had been on paid administrative leave pending results of an investigation into allegations that he mishandled two internal affairs misconduct cases against a police sergeant who was involved in a hit-and-run car crash and fired a gun in a police department elevator.
“I am no longer confident that Chief Armstrong can do the work that is needed to achieve the vision,” said Thao at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “Oakland needs a police department that welcomes opportunities for improvement rather than immediately rejecting criticism.”
The mayor said she was concerned that Armstrong’s public statements in his defense minimized the significance of the misconduct cases that had been covered up during internal affairs investigations.
In a written statement, Mayor Thao said:
“I made a commitment, as your mayor, to ensure that the Police Department and the City can prove, once and for all, that Oakland is ready to ensure constitutional policing without federal oversight.
“Within days of being notified that the city needed time to carefully review the findings and evidence in these very serious cases, Chief Armstrong made a number of statements that troubled me.
“In response to a public report that concluded that OPD had repeatedly failed to rigorously investigate misconduct and hold officers accountable, Chief Armstrong said these were not incidents where officers behaved poorly. He stated that he did not believe these incidents reflected systemic problems,” she said.
“Instead, Chief Armstrong described the underlying incident as a minor vehicle collision. He said that officers made ‘mistakes.’ He publicly stated that the sergeant involved in a vehicle collision was held accountable, disregarding the independent investigator’s findings of serious flaws in the disciplinary process.”
“It is clear to me that there are systemic issues the city needs to address and that we cannot simply write them off as mistakes,” she said.
Following his termination, Armstrong released the following statement to KTVU:
“I am deeply disappointed in the Mayor’s decision. After the relevant facts are fully evaluated by weighing evidence instead of pulling soundbites from strategically leaked, inaccurate reports, it will be clear I was a loyal and effective reformer of the Oakland Police Department.
“It will be equally clear that I committed no misconduct, and my termination is fundamentally wrong, unjustified, and unfair,” Armstrong continued. “I anticipate releasing a more detailed statement soon once I have the chance to fully digest the mayor’s remarks.”
The mayor had placed Armstrong on administrative leave on Jan. 19 following an investigation conducted by an outside law firm hired by the city into how the police Internal Affairs department conducted two investigations into Sgt. Michael Chung.
The report by the outside law firm, which was confidential but released by several news outlets, found that Chief Armstrong’s denials of involvement in the internal affairs case were not “credible” and that he had committed “gross dereliction of duty and performance of duty” for failing to hold subordinate officers accountable and to ensure the integrity of OPD’s discipline process.
In March 2021, Chung was involved in a crash in San Francisco in which his OPD vehicle tore off the bumper off his neighbor’s Mercedes. According to the outside lawyers’ report, the internal affairs investigation downplayed its findings, saying that Chung was involved in a “preventable collision” rather than a hit-and-run that caused $14,000 in damage and that he did not report to either the San Francisco police or OPD.
Armstrong signed off on this report without reading it, and Chung received counseling and training.
A year later, Chung fired a gun in an elevator in a police department building and threw the shell casings off the Bay Bridge.
According to the law firm’s report, Armstrong displayed a “lack of attention to internal processes that should have been laser-sharp and focused on an investigation involving a pattern of criminal misconduct,” adding that there is a “problem with the tone at the top — at least when it comes to the department’s commitment to policing itself.”
Defending Armstrong, District 5 City Councilmember Noel Gallo told the Oakland Post that he opposed his firing:
“I have the greatest respect for Chief Armstrong — I’ve known him for many years,” said Gallo. He’s the first police chief I’ve seen walking the streets with me, attending community events, and visiting schools. He’s an honorable man who has created respect in the communities.
“He was able to create a positive feeling among police officers, both among those who have been on the force for years and those who are new recruits,” Gallo continued. “Chief Armstrong made a difference.”
Gallo also said that police oversight is costing Oakland over $1 million a year and should be ended. “Federal Monitor Warshaw just shows up every three months and writes us up negatively. It’s time for the federal oversight to end.” Oakland has been under federal oversight for more 20 years.
Supporting the mayor’s decision, the Anti Police-Terror Project (APTP) issued a statement:
“Over the past few weeks, we’ve observed Chief Armstrong attempt to strongarm the media and local politicians to push for reinstatement. Armstrong hired the discredited local PR consultant, Sam Singer, in an attempt to bully the mayor to give him his job back … (while) many local media publications regurgitated the Singer press releases.”
“This was a bold and courageous move,” said Cat Brooks, executive director and co-founder of the APTP. “Despite attempts by Armstrong, who was more busy being a political actor than a police chief, to coerce the mayor into preserving his job, Mayor Thao remained rooted in the facts of the investigation. This is an important first step in decades of little-to-zero accountability for this department,” said Brooks.
According to APTP, this latest scandal was not Armstrong’s first. “He lied about the department being defunded when in reality its budget increased by $38 million. He lied about his officers using excessive force (including tear-gassing children), even though OPD just lost a lawsuit for precisely that. He knew that his officers were sharing racist, sexist memes but did nothing to stop it.”
On Thursday, some of Armstrong’s supporters held a press conference on the steps of City Hall to demand that he be given back his job.
Speakers called for the former chief’s rehiring, include former mayoral candidate Seneca Scott, who spoke for the Oakland branch of the NAACP.
Brenda Grisham, who helped organize the event, said, “(Chief Armstrong) loves us, and we love him as well. What we want to see is his job back. We’re going to fight for his job, and he’s going to fight for his job – because we need to fight for ourselves.”
When the Mayor Sheng Thao’s name was mentioned at the press conference, many in the crowd began chanting, “Recall, Recall!”
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