San Francisco Chronicle
Oakland police chief wants immediate reinstatement
Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong publicly demanded Monday that he be reinstated immediately from paid administrative leave after officials took him off the job last week following a report that said the department mishandled two officer misconduct cases.
He also accused the federal monitor overseeing the department of continuing to find faults in police operations to keep his “lucrative” contract.
“I deserve to be reinstated as chief of police immediately by the city of Oakland. It is a matter of justice, due process and fairness. It is also an issue of justice and fairness for the people and community of Oakland to have me at the helm of the Police Department to protect public safety
and provide leadership and stability to our officers,” Armstrong read from a written statement at the news conference.
Mayor Sheng Thao and City Administrator Ed Reiskin placed Armstrong on administrative leave Thursday after a new report, done by an outside law firm, found Armstrong had violated department rules when he failed to review evidence from the officer misconduct cases before closing the investigations.
The cases involved a police sergeant who collided with a parked car in 2021 and failed to report the crash. That same sergeant fired his gun in an elevator at police headquarters nearly a year later and failed to report it. Instead, the sergeant got rid of the evidence by throwing it off the Bay Bridge.
Thao and Reiskin said in a joint statement that they didn’t take the decision lightly and the city must have “transparency and accountability to move forward as a safer and stronger Oakland.”
Armstrong argued that the department did take appropriate actions.
“I followed all policies, protocols and procedures in the two incidents” detailed in that report, he said.
He said the department had begun a criminal and administrative investigation of the officer involved in the two cases and had placed him on administrative leave.
“But neither the department — nor myself as chief — ever had the opportunity to take full and appropriate disciplinary action against the officer because the federal monitor Robert Warshaw took the investigation out of my hands so that he could handle it himself,” Armstrong said.
At the news conference, Armstrong said the department has a process that calls for command staff to review internal investigations and present them to the chief.
“No chief would ever be able to do his or her job if they had to review over 200 sustained findings or cases that we sustained in OPD over a year’s period of time,” he said. “I hope you all want me to actually do my job of running the Oakland Police Department and addressing crime in the city. If I were to accept the fact that I need to review, then why do I have a chain of command?”
But he acknowledged that the process itself should be reviewed.
Armstrong accused Warshaw, the federal monitor, of acting in “his own clear self-interest” and not acting “honestly.”
“I was born and raised here,” Armstrong said. “... The idea that somebody would take this opportunity and try to ruin the long history I have in Oakland is really offensive.”
Armstrong accused Warshaw of “manufacturing a false crisis to justify extending his lucrative monitoring contract.”
He said Warshaw directed Thao to place him on leave and that he doesn’t blame the mayor for the decision. He did not say how he knew Warshaw made the decision.
Leigh Hanson, Thao’s chief of staff, said in a statement that Thao made the decision after consulting with Reiskin “based on the seriousness of the public and non-public reports, as well as the fact that more information is coming.”
“By placing the Chief on paid administrative leave, the Mayor did not come to a judgment,” Hanson said. “Instead, she reserved judgment, in order to allow independent oversight to occur based on a full set of facts.”
Warshaw didn’t return a request for comment.
John Burris, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys for the Riders civil action case that resulted in the federal oversight, said he supported Armstrong’s call to be reinstated, that there wasn’t “sufficient basis” from the report for the action, and that Armstrong has been “pretty aggressive in holding officers accountable.”
But Burris said he disagreed with the comments about Warshaw’s intentions.
“I have known the monitor for 10 to 12 years. I’ve never known him to be anything but forthright, honest and a man of integrity,” Burris said.
Armstrong’s accusations about Warshaw echoed those made by former Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick. She said in 2020, after she was fired by thenMayor Libby Schaaf, that “the oversight of the Oakland Police Department has been corrupted by the federal monitor Robert Warshaw. The only reason the police department is ‘out of compliance’ is not because of its officers, policies or procedures. It is because Warshaw wants to keep milking Oakland for money.”
Over the summer, Kirkpatrick was awarded $1.5 million over wrongful termination in the wake of her suit against the city.
As of 2020, Oakland taxpayers had spent more than about $28 million in reform fees since oversight began in 2003, including expenses for court-ordered technology like early-warning systems and body cameras, and plaintiffs’ attorney fees. Updated costs weren’t immediately available Monday.
Thao held a news conference Saturday where she said the suspension was neither a punitive nor disciplinary action, but rather standard practice for police officers who are under investigation.
“Under this administration, there will be no different kind of treatment, whether you’re the chief or rank-and-file,” she said. “This is an opportunity to more fully review the findings of the reports and let our oversight bodies act.”
Thao has said additional findings are expected out of the investigation and she will decide then whether Armstrong can keep his job.
While most of the City Council backed Thao’s decision, Council member Noel Gallo threw his support behind Armstrong on Monday and said it’s important to back the chief.
The new report poses a setback for the department and raises questions about whether it can exit federal oversight as expected in May. The department came under federal oversight after a 2000 lawsuit in which six men in West Oakland argued they were falsely arrested on drug charges and accused four officers, known as the Riders, of assaulting and conspiring to frame them.
Armstrong was appointed chief in February 2021 and promised to be a “visible” leader “laser-focused” on reforms.
“I don’t want to be anyone’s scapegoat,” Armstrong said. “I didn’t do anything wrong. I followed the policies, I followed the protocols.”