The Mercury News
Oakland police chief fired by mayor
LeRonne Armstrong terminated without cause; he maintains Sheng Thao's decision `fundamentally wrong'
OAKLAND >> Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao fired embattled Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong on Wednesday amid a misconduct scandal that engulfed the department and ensured its continued federal oversight.
Armstrong, a 20-year Oakland police veteran and the city's top cop since 2021, is the latest in a series of chiefs to either be shown the door or resign amid controversy.
The firing is a major political move by Thao, who was elected in November and has won support from progressives by aligning herself with advocates for police accountability.
The mayor said she was troubled by Armstrong's public statements downplaying the actions of a police sergeant at the center of the scandal, whose misconduct led to a series of coverups by higher-ranking officers.
“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,” Thao said at the news conference.
“And I personally believe this report shows the absolute necessity of continued reforms to address the issues that have been brought to light,” she added later.
Thao terminated the chief without cause and is not required to provide a justification for her decision, unlike the Oakland Police Commission, a citizen body that was set to meet later Wednesday to consider the chief's future.
Thao's decision came less than a month after the release of a bombshell independent report that outlined numerous accountability failures within the Oakland Police Department.
Documents made public this week described how an outside law firm found the chief “not credible” when he claimed to know little about the extent of wrongdoing by an officer in his department.
The officer, Sgt. Michael Chung, was involved in a hit-and-run with a parked vehicle and later fired his service weapon in a department elevator. In both cases, he attempted to cover his tracks.
The report found that higher-ranking officers
watered down an internal investigation into the collision. Armstrong, the report states, signed off on the findings without reading them. The mayor placed Armstrong on paid leave last month after the report was released.
Later, he gave statements to the firm's investigators that contradicted those of his subordinate officers, who said the chief had been kept abreast of an investigation into the elevator incident.
Armstrong, in a statement released by famed crisis adviser Sam Singer, said he was “deeply disappointed” in Thao'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,” Armstrong said.
“It will be equally clear that I committed no misconduct, and my termination is fundamentally wrong, unjustified, and unfair,” he added. “I anticipate releasing a more detailed statement soon once I have the chance to fully digest the Mayor's remarks.”
Darren Allison, an assistant police chief, will serve in Armstrong's stead as the police commission searches for a fulltime replacement.
The commission will present four final candidates to the mayor, who can pick one candidate or reject them all and restart the search.
Speaking on behalf of the commission, chair member Tyfahra Milele said at a meeting Wednesday that she respected Thao's decision, noting that the mayor had been wary of multiple
commissioners having an existing strong relationship with Armstrong.
“We are sorry to lose a respected and reform-minded chief,” Milele said.
An Oakland native and McClymonds High School graduate, Armstrong had won the approval of a number of the city's Black community leaders who joined him this past month in a public campaign to keep his job.
The chief put pressure on Thao to reinstate him, suggesting the mayor was actually carrying out the bidding of Robert Warshaw, a monitor appointed by a federal court judge to oversee Oakland police. Thao declined to comment on the allegations at Wednesday's news conference.
The judge, William Orrick, had been preparing to end two decades of federal oversight of OPD this summer, but the latest scandal appeared to have changed his mind. He said last month the independent report “exposed rot” in the department.
Armstrong's attorney released a statement Monday saying the latest confidential report actually “confirms that the chief did his job” because it notes he was “walled off” from the investigation when the law firm took over.
“The chief's role in the investigation was extremely limited, but for unclear reasons the report's authors spend a lot of effort attacking his credibility even after concluding he committed no misconduct,” the attorney,
Will Edelman, said in the statement.
“Indeed, the report generally offers a few sentences or a paragraph about each witness's credibility, but inexplicably it devotes a full page to the discussion of the chief's credibility,” Edelman added.
It was not immediately clear if the chief plans to take legal action against the city after his firing.
Last year, the city paid a $1.5 million settlement to Anne Kirkpatrick, the last full-time police chief, after she sued the city for wrongful termination.
Kirkpatrick was jointly fired by the police commission and former Mayor Libby Schaaf, whose backing of the decision allowed both parties not to provide a reason for the termination.