Former Oakland police chief may sue for retaliatory firing

(L) Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao and (R) former Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong

Fired Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong is considering legal action following Mayor Sheng Thao’s decision to fire him Wednesday, a crisis consultant working on his behalf said Friday.

Armstrong was wrongfully fired and in a retaliatory way, consultant Sam Singer said.

Armstrong said he was fired for standing up for the city. “I did my job, and I did it well,” he said in a statement Friday, adding that he nearly brought an end to about 20 years of federal oversight of the Police Department. Under Armstrong, the department came in line with 51 of 52 of the reforms necessary to comply with the Negotiated Settlement Agreement. The agreement followed from a lawsuit alleging misconduct by police more than 20 years ago.

Armstrong said he pointed out to Thao that the conclusions by Robert Warshaw, the monitor overseeing the agreement, “need to be taken with a very big grain of salt, and scrutinized to be sure they are backed by evidence and that they make sense.” When he did that, Thao fired him, Armstrong said.

The chief alleges Warshaw has a financial interest in maintaining federal oversight of Oakland police.

“He is supposed to be neutral, but he is not,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong believes Thao should have asked tough questions about the report alleging misconduct by a police sergeant and the investigation by the department’s internal affairs unit. The sergeant allegedly was involved in a crash into a parked vehicle in 2021 and left the scene. The following year, the same officer is alleged to have accidentally discharged his gun in the freight elevator of police headquarters and waited a week to report it.

The allegations were revealed in a report by Clarence Dyer and Cohen, which was hired by the city to conduct an investigation. The report concluded in part that the internal affairs division “sought to recast, deflect, and minimize the severity of the officer’s misconduct.”

Armstrong at a regular briefing allegedly did not allow “extensive discussion” of the collision or request that a video of it be shown, the report said. Instead, Armstrong quickly approved the recommended finding against the sergeant for being involved in a preventable collision but not for the hit-and-run, according to the report. Armstrong also signed the report of the investigation without reading it, the report said.

The Oakland Police Commission had questions about the credibility and quality of the report.

Warshaw was “profoundly disappointed in the evidence” and saw “significant cultural problems in the department,” Thao said on Wednesday.

“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 countered that the mayor “accepted the Monitor’s conclusions at face value.”

“Worse, she ignored the Oakland community,” the chief said.

Thao has said before and after she was elected that she wants to bring the community together.

The Black community in Oakland has rallied behind the chief with demands for his reinstatement by friends, neighbors and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Another rally is planned for Monday at 10 a.m. at City Hall.

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