Oakland’s new Democrat mayor announced the firing of the Northern California city’s police chief amidst controversy over an alleged coverup of officer misconduct, the seventh change in leadership at the top since 2016 for the police force which has been under federal oversight for two decades.
On Wednesday, Mayor Sheng Thao gave the heave-ho to Chief LeRonne Armstrong, announcing that the embattled 20-year police veteran who has been in charge of the department since 2021 had been removed from his position following a report that he failed to properly investigate an OPD sergeant who was involved in a hit-and-run with his police vehicle and discharged his firearm inside of an elevator at police headquarters in a separate incident.
Mayor Thao, who just took office last month after winning election on a platform that included vows to hold police accountable, announced that Armstrong had been fired over his handling of the investigations into the conduct of Sgt. Michael Chung, saying that “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.”
#BREAKING Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao fires Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong. @nbcbayarea https://t.co/akiYeFYyaR pic.twitter.com/hMfu1IK51I
— Janelle Wang (@janellewang) February 16, 2023
The mayor also issued a lengthy statement expressing her “respect and admiration” for Chief Armstrong’s service but that she no longer had confidence in his ability to lead the department after the issues with Sgt. Chung were found to be sufficiently serious, putting the Oakland Police Department out of compliance with the negotiated settlement agreement with the federal government that was agreed upon in January 2003 as a result of a scandal involving police brutality and misconduct involving officers.
Thao stated that the federal judge who was overseeing the city was “profoundly disappointed in the evidence he’d seen and that the report demonstrates significant cultural problems in the Department. The federal monitor determined there were systemic issues serious enough to render the Department out of compliance with an important requirement of the negotiated settlement agreement.”
Chief Armstrong has my respect and appreciation for his service to the Department and to the City.
But I am no longer confident that Chief Armstrong can do the work needed to continue much needed reforms. My full statement here.https://t.co/xWjqxxf4ql
— Mayor Sheng Thao 盛桃 (@MayorShengThao) February 16, 2023
“In response to a public report that concluded that OPD had repeatedly failed to rigorously investigate misconduct and hold officers accountable, Chief Armstrong said these were not incidents where officers behaved poorly. He stated that he did not believe these incidents reflected systemic problems,” the mayor said in the statement. “Instead, Chief Armstrong described the underlying incident as a minor vehicle collision. He said that officers made ‘mistakes.’ He publicly stated that the sergeant involved in a vehicle collision was held accountable, disregarding the independent investigator’s findings of serious flaws in the disciplinary process.”
“I’ve taken the time to review the cases and consider the evidence and conclusions as to each of the subject officers, including Chief Armstrong. Publicly discussing the merits of these discipline cases would be inappropriate. But I can say that 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,'” she wrote.
Armstrong, who had previously been placed on administrative leave, reacted to his termination, saying that he was “deeply disappointed” by the mayor’s decision in a statement released by crisis advisor Sam Singer.
“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,” he said. “It will be equally clear that I committed no misconduct, and my termination is fundamentally wrong, unjustified, and unfair,” he added. “I anticipate releasing a more detailed statement soon once I have the chance to fully digest the Mayor’s remarks.”
“The Oakland Police Department made national news in 2000 after a rookie officer came forward to report abuse of power by a group of officers known as the Oakland ‘Riders,'” according to the Associated Press. “The four officers were charged with making false arrests, planting evidence, using excessive force, falsifying police reports and assaulting people in west Oakland, a predominantly Black area. Three of the officers were acquitted after two separate juries deadlocked on most of the charges. The fourth officer is a fugitive and is believed to have fled the country.”
“The case resulted in the department coming under federal oversight in 2003 and being required to enact 52 reform measures and report its progress to an outside monitor and a federal judge,” the outlet reported, describing the reason for the federal government’s involvement with the police department.
“This was not an easy decision but it’s one I believe is necessary for that progress to continue. It’s precisely because I admire Chief Armstrong that this has been personally difficult. But this process has reinforced my commitment to making decisions based on the best interests of the department and the City, and not based on personal feelings or relationships,” Thao said in her statement.
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