Less than 24 hours after Oakland mayor Sheng Thao fired police chief LeRonne Armstrong over the alleged mishandling of an internal investigation, Armstrong’s supporters gave an earful at Oakland City Hall Thursday afternoon demanding Armstrong be reinstated.
The position of police chief of the Oakland Police Department is historically kind of a snakebitten job. The department has had 12 police chiefs in the last 13 years, and a Chronicle historical retrospective this week points out a phase in 2016 when the department had “four police chiefs in a span of nine days.” Much of this high-turnover turmoil goes back to the fallout from a series of unlawful beatings and detentions known as “the Riders” scandal, which placed the department under federal oversight in 2003, which continues today.
That oversight recently uncovered Oakland police chief LeRonne Armstrong employing lax internal discipline with an officer who both fled the scene of a hit-and-run (with a subordinate he was romantically involved with) and that he disposed of evidence after an accidental discharge of his weapon in a department elevator. New Oakland mayor Shang Thao placed Armstrong on paid leave in late January, and then fired him Wednesday afternoon.
A day after Mayor Sheng Thao fired Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong, some Oakland residents expressed outrage at the mayor’s decision and the embattled chief weighed legal options against the city.— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) February 16, 2023
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📷: @noahberger3884 pic.twitter.com/TQ3gNTtwHt
Armstrong is not going quietly. KTVU reports that Armstrong's supporters rallied to have hm reinstated Thursday afternoon at Oakland City Hall.
#HappeningNow Community advocates are calling for former #OPD Chief LeRonne Armstrong to be reinstated after he was fired by Mayor Sheng Thao. They are now calling the the mayor to be recalled. https://t.co/7VKnx5Z9iU pic.twitter.com/fkXJIUSc7m— Cornell Barnard (@CornellBarnard) February 16, 2023
Media reports indicate it was somewhere between 30 and 50 people attending (The Chronicle said it was “Nearly 30 people,” KTVU pegged it as “nearly four dozen”). That seems consistent with the photos embedded in this post. But 30-50 is not frankly an enormous rally. And notably, Armstrong has retained both an attorney and PR representation from Sam Singer’s Singer Associates Public Relations, so the rally may not have been entirely organic or grassroots.
“We are going to demand that LeRonne Armstrong be rehired,” Oakland’s Victory Baptist Church pastor Marty Peters said at the rally, according to the Chronicle. “Armstrong has a heart to make our city better.”
And you can speculate on the motivations of former Oakland city councilmember Loren Taylor, whom Thao defeated in the November election, who’s coming out swinging in support of Armstrong and criticizing Mayor Thao. “I truly believe that the decision to fire Chief Armstrong and the way it was made places Oakland on the wrong trajectory for public safety, police reform, government transparency, and community trust/empowerment,” Taylor said in his statement.
And there’s an argument coming together that the federal oversight is financially motivated, so that's why federal regulators want it to continue. “What we do need to do is fire the monitor,” councilmember Noel Gallo told KPIX Wednesday night. “We’ve had this [Negotiated Settlement Agreement] for over 20 years, spending millions of dollars. And those are millions of dollars that I should be investing in my community, and now I’m spending a million dollars to have somebody who comes from out of town, once every three months, looking for something that’s wrong within our police department.”
A cynic could say that Armstrong’s endgame here is not unlike that of fired former Oakland police chief Anne Kirkpatrick, who rode her 2020 firing to a $1.5 million settlement. And indeed, KPIX reports that Armstrong put out a new statement on Thursday (in addition to the one above) saying, “I am continuing to evaluate my legal options to preserve my rights and my hard-earned reputation.”
But it’s also clear that Armstrong does want the job back too, and has friends in high places at Oakland City Hall who also want him reinstated as Oakland chief of police.
Image: @ForNenna via Twitter