.Chief Fired

Mayor Thao fires Police Chief Armstrong for alleged misconduct 

On Feb. 15, Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao announced that she was firing Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong.

Armstrong had been put on leave last month after a report detailed allegations of police misconduct within the department. The allegations involved two infractions by the same police sergeant and a poor investigation by the Police Department’s internal affairs division, which investigates officer misconduct.

“It is clear to me that there are systemic issues and the city needs to address them,” Thao said at a news conference announcing the chief’s firing.

Armstrong took over as Oakland’s police chief in February 2021 after starting with the department as an officer in 1999. The Oakland Police Department (OPD) continues to be subject to federal court oversight to oversee reforms mandated in a police misconduct case settlement dating back to 2003.

Thao said Armstrong’s firing was not a disciplinary action but that she lost confidence in the chief. The firing came just 90 minutes before a meeting of the Oakland Police Commission, which was set to possibly act on the chief’s tenure. 

In her decision, Thao considered statements made by Armstrong about the alleged misconduct.

“In the end, I am responsible for making sure we have leadership at OPD that is committed to necessary reforms, can work with the monitoring team and have credibility before the courts,” Thao said at a news conference last Wednesday afternoon at City Hall. 

She said she could have fired the chief at any time without cause, but she chose to treat him like other officers who receive disciplinary action within 30 days. 

The 30 days were up on Feb. 15. 

Armstrong said in a statement after the mayor’s announcement, “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.”  

He added, “It will be equally clear that I committed no misconduct, and my termination is fundamentally wrong, unjustified and unfair.”  

The Police Department has made progress being fair to residents and officers, Thao said. 

“But there is a lot more to do, and my job is to make absolutely sure we continue our progress,” she said. 

Thao wants to bring an end to the federal oversight of the Police Department, which started about 20 years ago. The alleged police misconduct under Armstrong’s watch has hampered that effort. 

Attorney John Burris, who helped file the case against the Police Department that led to federal oversight, said before Thao’s announcement that Armstrong was being subjected to a witch hunt. 

Burris could not say who was behind the hunt. 

“It would be a tragedy if he were to leave,” Burris said of Armstrong, who is from Oakland and has been with the department since 1999. Armstrong started as chief in February 2021. 

Burris did not think the evidence was sufficient to dismiss Armstrong. 

The evidence made public came in a report by an outside law firm that was hired by the city. 

Thao said the report “concluded that OPD had repeatedly failed to rigorously investigate misconduct and hold officers accountable.” 

The report cited two infractions by the same police sergeant and a poor investigation by the Police Department’s internal affairs division, which investigates officer misconduct.

The sergeant’s first infraction, according to the report, was allegedly leaving the scene of a March 2021 collision he was involved in and failing to report the collision. The sergeant was driving a police vehicle when the collision occurred.

The second infraction involved the alleged accidental firing of a gun in April 2022 in the freight elevator of police headquarters and waiting a week to report that, the report said. The sergeant also allegedly removed evidence of the discharge, according to the report. 

Armstrong said the incidents did not show officers behaving badly, Thao alleged. The mayor also alleged that Armstrong did not believe the incidents showed systemic problems in the department. 

Armstrong, Thao alleged, described the incidents as mistakes. 

Brenda Grisham, parent of a child slain in Oakland in 2010, said Thao’s decision will disconnect her from the Black community and everyone who likes Armstrong. 

“She can’t be the mayor for us,” said Grisham, who has known Armstrong for 11 years. 

“This is our city, too,” she said. 

She thinks what was expected of Armstrong was too much for one person. 

Assistant Chief Darren Allison has been acting chief since Armstrong was placed on leave. Allison will continue to be acting chief until the city completes a nationwide search for a new chief, Thao said.

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