Former Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong, who was fired one year ago by Mayor Sheng Thao amid an internal affairs scandal, has now filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city.
We first heard that LeRonne Armstrong had filed a lawsuit against the City of Oakland last August — but that was perhaps just news of an impending lawsuit. Because as KRON4 now reports, the suit was filed Monday evening, and it's a fairly scathing indictment of federal monitor Robert Warshaw, whom Armstrong and his attorneys squarely blame for his February 2023 firing.
It has been the contention of Armstrong, the Oakland chapter of the NAACP, and Armstrong's allies on the police commission, that the federal monitor who has been overseeing Oakland's police department for two decades now coerced newly elected Mayor Cheng Thao into firing Armstrong. And, they contend that Warshaw personally benefits from perpetuating chaos in the police department, as his tenure as monitor is thus continued and he continues being paid for it.
To wit, from the lawsuit: "Despite good intentions of monitoring generally, the practical financial realities of a monitorship incentivize the monitor to continue to find ‘systemic problems’ and ‘leadership failures’ because the monitor personally benefits by requiring further supervision under the monitor’s well-compensated gaze."
As the Chronicle notes, the lawsuit further alleges that Mayor Thao told people immediately after the firing that Warshaw had forced her hand.
"While the exact details of witnesses’ recollections vary slightly," the lawsuit says, "in sum and substance, the mayor stated in an angry tone: 'F— the monitor for making me do this. I really didn’t want to do this.'"
In arguing that it was a wrongful termination, the suit contends that Armstrong's dismissal, which was "without cause," was neither justified nor legal.
"This is an unusual wrongful termination case," the attorneys say in the suit. "The city’s sole decision-maker (Mayor Thao) has repeatedly and publicly explained her reasons for the unlawful termination — and those reasons are illegal and retaliatory on their face."
Armstrong spent much of last year campaigning to be reinstated in his job, after he was first put on leave by Thao in January 2023. The circumstances surrounding Armstrong's dismissal related to his perceived failure to discipline a subordinate who had multiple misconduct charges against him — but a subsequent third-party analysis by a hired arbitrator found that Armstrong was not at fault.
The Oakland Police Commission subsequently put forward Armstrong as one of three candidates to fill the still vacant police chief role, and Thao rejected all three in December. The commission is supposed to be nominating more candidates for the job soon.
A spokesperson for Armstrong, Sam Singer, tells Bay Area News Group that Armstrong is no longer seeking to get his job back, and is now seeking monetary damages. Armstrong has, in recent months, taken a job as an assistant basketball coach at Bishop O'Down High School.
Oakland's police department has been under federal monitoring, under court order, since the settlement in the Riders case in 2003. Subsequent scandals in the department and some particularly high turnover in the chief's office have kept Warshaw, the monitor, in his role to this day — though a judge suggested in 2022, under Armstrong's leadership, that the department might be nearing the end of that oversight.