Citing evidence that Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong's actions and statements reflected "systemic issues" within the police department, Mayor Sheng Thao made the decision to fire him Wednesday.
The news was announced at an afternoon press conference, and it comes one month after Mayor Thao and the city administrator placed Armstrong on administrative leave over allegations that mishandled an investigation into an apparently problematic sergeant on the force, Sgt. Michael Chung.
"Chief Armstrong has my respect and appreciation for his service to the Department and to the city that he grew up in and that he loves dearly," Thao said in a statement. "He will continue to have my respect and appreciation. But I am no longer confident that Chief Armstrong can do the work needed to achieve the vision."
Thao said that in meeting with Armstrong, he denied that the Chung case was reflective of systemic problems that have plagued the OPD for decades — problems that have led to an especially high turnover among its chiefs in the last decade. "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.
Oakland police have been under federal monitor for the past 20 years, following the Riders misconduct scandal. Last April, under Armstrong's leadership, the department and the city tried to make their case in federal court that they had fully reformed and no longer needed the federal monitor, Robert Warshaw. (The city was granted a probationary period last summer, which was up for review in January.) However it was a mandated report from Warshaw last month that led to Armstrong facing discipline. As Oaklandside reported, the report found that Armstrong "failed to hold subordinate officers accountable for serious misconduct and allowed a flawed internal affairs investigation to be closed with very little review."
“In order to finally bring an end to Oakland’s federal oversight — and not risk the investments we’ve made for over 20 years — it’s an absolute requirement that my administration, including the Chief of Police, be able to work closely with the monitoring team and speak credibly before the court,” Thao said in her statement.
U.S. District Judge William Orrick, who has been overseeing the department's federal monitor process, ordered that the report be made public last month, saying that it "exposes rot" that still pervades the department.
A subsequent investigation by an independent legal firm reportedly found that Armstrong gave an "implausible" account about not being aware of Chung's misconduct case, and that he was "not credible" in statements he made to them.
Chung was accused of being involved in a hit-and-run in a San Francisco parking garage, in which his vehicle ripped the bumper off another vehicle, and then failed to report the incident. There was a separate incident that hasn't been well explained in which Sgt. Chung allegedly shot his service weapon in an elevator at OPD headquarters, and then tried to cover up the incident, reportedly throwing shell casings off the Bay Bridge.
The monitor's report further found that that the OPD's Internal Affairs division failed to properly discipline Chung and "created an environment that allowed that officer to go on to commit far more egregious and dangerous misconduct."
Armstrong has publicly been making the case for several weeks that was wrongfully put on leave, and he went so far as to accuse Warshaw, the federal monitor, of being corrupt. As Oaklandside reports, with the help of a crisis management team that included local PR guy Sam Singer, Armstrong brought in the NAACP to back his return, and he suggested that Warshaw's report was just an effort to hold on to the lucrative monitor role, for which he and his team are reportedly paid $700,000 a year.
Now, it seems like a legal fight is inevitable — and the last police chief that an Oakland mayor fired, Anne Kirkpatrick, successfully sued the city for damages and got a $1.5 million settlement last year.
As the Chronicle notes, Armstrong is the twelfth chief to leave the job or be fired in the last 20 years of federal monitor-ship.
Mayor Thao said she would now be "seeking a diverse pool of applicants [to fill the role]," and she hoped to find "candidates who are committed to reform and who have demonstrated the ability to improve community police relationships."
Thao said she would be attending a closed-session meeting with the Oakland Police Commission this evening to discuss next steps.
Update: Armstrong has issued a statement through Singer, saying, "I am deeply disappointed in the Mayor’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. It will be equally clear that I committed no misconduct, and my termination is fundamentally wrong, unjustified, and unfair. I anticipate releasing a more detailed statement soon once I have the chance to fully digest the Mayor’s remarks."