Former Oakland police chief says new report vindicates his wrongful termination claim

Former Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong was appointed in February 2021 and fired two years later by Mayor Sheng Thao.

Former Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong, who was fired earlier this year by Mayor Sheng Thao, said Monday that a report included in his appeal of that decision vindicates his claim that he was wrongly terminated.

Armstrong was fired by Thao in February after a 30-day suspension, which followed an outside investigation into alleged police misconduct in the department. At the time, Thao said she fired the Oakland native after only two years on the job because she lost confidence in him when he made statements that she maintained minimized the seriousness of the investigation’s findings.

At a press conference Monday, Armstrong said a 55-page report from the hearing officer in his appeals case affirms what he’s been saying all along — that he never should have been disciplined, he never violated department policy and the claim that he lacked credibility during the investigation is unfounded.

“I said from the onset of this that I was not guilty of any of these allegations, that the facts will come out in this case and when the facts did come out, I felt like I would be vindicated,” Armstrong said. “And today is that vindication.”

While he didn’t provide a copy of the report, Armstrong’s lawyer Will Edelman said it also found his claim that he was illegally fired for exercising his Frist Amendment rights was plausible. “Ultimately, that report recommended that he meet and confer with the city about next steps and the potential resolution to this, including the possibility of reinstatement,” Edelman said.

The outside investigation that initially sparked the discord between the mayor and the chief was requested by the federal monitor who oversees the Oakland Police Department. It focused primarily on two separate infractions by the same police sergeant — an alleged hit-and-run vehicle collision and the alleged accidental firing of a gun in the freight elevator of police headquarters — and a subsequent investigation by the department’s internal affairs division.

Just moments before Armstrong’s press conference was scheduled to begin Monday afternoon, Thao issued a statement saying, in part, that before she fired him she was “troubled by then-Chief Armstrong’s many statements indicating that he saw no need for deep reflection or change within the department” following that investigation.

“Before he had seen the full report, much less the underlying evidence, and while he was still the Chief of Police, Mr. Armstrong immediately dismissed the allegations as ‘mistakes’ and not systematic problems, and insisted the officer had already been held accountable,” Thao said.

Thao said the new report is non-binding and “there was no recommendation that I reverse my decision to move the department forward under new leadership.”

However, also on Monday, Oakland Police Commission Chair Tyfahra Milele said she would ask the commission to consider recommending to the mayor that Armstrong be reinstated or listed as one of the final candidates for the job. “We were aware at the time that the charges against the chief lacked credibility and said so publicly,” Milele said in a press release. “We were disappointed that the federal monitor further burned his credibility by signing off on the largely evidence free report used to fire the chief.”

If the city and Armstrong can’t agree on how to move forward, the former chief said he would exhaust all legal remedies, including the possible filing a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Regardless of the ultimate outcome of the dispute, Armstrong said the new report should help Oaklanders better understand his tenure with the department. “I think the people of Oakland deserve the truth,” he said. “I think the people of Oakland deserve to know that a son of the city did not violate them, did not undermine their trust, that I am who I said I was — committed to the city of Oakland, someone who was doing the job the right.”

Armstrong is the second chief in a row to become embroiled in public battle with the city over their firing. His predecessor, Anne Kirkpatrick, was fired by the Oakland police commission and then-Mayor Libby Schaaf in 2020 after almost three years on the job. She subsequently won a federal whistleblower lawsuit in which she alleged her firing was in retaliation for reporting several instances of police commissioner misconduct, including alleged attempts to use their offices for personal gain, seeking special treatment from the police department and inappropriately meddling in the department’s operations, among other things. The city eventually agreed to settle the case for $1.5 million.

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