Mayor fires Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong
OAKLAND, Calif. - In a bold move a month into her tenure, Oakland's mayor on Wednesday decided to fire Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong, who has been under fire for how he handled two misconduct investigations into one of his sergeants.
"I am no longer confident that Chief Armstrong can do the work that is needed to achieve the vision," said Mayor Sheng Thao at an afternoon press conference. "Oakland needs a police department that welcomes opportunities for improvement rather than immediately rejecting criticism."
Thao said she made her decision without the Oakland Police Commission because the members didn't complete their investigation in a timely fashion. However, she stressed that she would work with them to find the next chief.
In a statement, the commission later said they respected the mayor's decision, but added they were not informed of her decision ahead of time.
At their own meeting later Wednesday night, the commissioners made it clear they would not have fired Armstrong, and they had serious problems with the credibility of the outside investigation.
"We are sorry to lose a reform-minded chief," chair Tyfara Milele said.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong ‘not credible,’ confidential report finds
Thao acknowledged that she didn't personally call Armstrong to inform him of his termination, but she said he received the notice through the proper channels.
"This process has reinforced my commitment to making decisions based on the best interests of the department and the city, not based on personal feelings or relationship," Thao said.
Thao said she also decided to fire Armstrong based on how he responded to the outside investigation, his repeated denials that he had done anything wrong, and that there were deep problems and coverups in the department under his watch.
"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.
Armstrong retained a lawyer and hired Sam Singer, a high-profile PR strategist, to fight back against the allegations made against him.
After his termination was made public, Armstrong released a statement through that firm. He continued to insist fault is with others.
"I am deeply disappointed in the mayor’s decision," the statement read. "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."
He added that he anticipates releasing a "more detailed statement soon once I have the chance to fully digest the mayor’s remarks."
KTVU was the first to break the contents of three confidential reports detailing criticisms against the chief. These reports elaborate on a 16-page summary of an outside investigation into the department.
The termination caps a whirlwind month of speculation after Thao placed Armstrong on paid administrative leave on Jan. 19, following a probe by an outside law firm into how OPD's Internal Affairs department conducted two investigations into Sgt. Michael Chung.
The outside investigators from the law firm, Clarence Dyer and Cohen, recommended a sustained finding of "gross dereliction of duty" for Armstrong, and also found him "not credible," when he said he didn't know the particulars of the internal inquiries into Chung, according to one of those confidential reports.
Armstrong has maintained that the investigations criticizing him were "baseless" and "unsupported."
The focus on the chief began with two allegations of misconduct by Chung.
Oakland Police Sgt. Michael Chung has been placed on administrative leave in April 2022. He is speaking here at a news conference on drones.
In March 2021, Chung ripped the bumper off his neighbor's Mercedes in San Francisco and then left the scene, the outside investigation found. The city of Oakland only learned about it when the neighbor filed an insurance claim with the city.
Capt. Wilson Lau told a subordinate to water down the report into Chung, finding that he was part of a "preventable" collision, instead of a hit-and-run that caused $14,000 in damage, the investigation found.
Armstrong signed off on this report without reading it and Chung received counseling and training.
Nearly a year after the hit-and-run, Chung fired a gun in an elevator in a police department building, didn't come forward for a week to admit what he'd done and by that time, had dumped the shell casings into the bay.
He intimated to a lieutenant that he wanted to die by suicide. An investigation into what happened was thwarted, the outside investigation found. Clarence Dyer and Cohen investigators also didn't believe Chung's suicide story, according to another of the confidential reports.
Chung has been on administrative leave since April 2022.
In the third of the confidential reports, the Clarence Dyer and Cohen firm wrote that they felt that Armstrong displayed a "lack of attention to internal processes that should have been laser-sharp and focused on an investigation involving a pattern of criminal misconduct."
Under Armstrong, the confidential report added, there is a "problem with the tone at the top – at least when it comes to the department’s commitment to policing itself."
Armstrong has disputed the negative findings in the report.
In an interview with KTVU on Monday, Armstrong stressed that he has reformed the police department more than any other chief.
"History has shown, I've held people accountable," the chief said. "I don't give special treatment."
This latest Oakland police saga highlights the agency’s revolving door of chiefs, an embarrassment to the department and the community.
Armstrong is the department's 12th chief since 2009.
When asked at the news conference how Thao could attract a new chief under these unenviable circumstances, the mayor deflected and focused on moving the city in the right direction.
Councilman Noel Gallo weighed in though, adding his disappointment with the firing of the chief.
"Here we go once more," he said. "We'll spend four or five months looking and then get someone on the outside who won't even know where Fruitvale Avenue is."
And while many in Oakland have lobbied for the chief, including the NAACP and other powerful city leaders, there are many people who have lost faith in him as well.
For his part, civil rights attorney Jim Chanin, who filed the 2003 lawsuit against Oakland police to eliminate corruption by officers against Black residents, said he thought the decision to fire Armstrong was a good one.
Earlier in the year, Chanin had thought that Armstrong was a strong leader. But his opinion changed when he read the details of the most recent investigations conducted by OPD into Chung's behavior.
"I am happy that the mayor made this decision on time, and instead of the federal monitor," Chanin said. "It shows that the city of Oakland is making the right move on its own."
KTVU's Henry Lee, Aja Seldon and Allie Rasmus contributed to this report.
Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at email@example.com or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez