NAACP rallies behind Oakland police chief placed on administrative leave

The NAACP is rallying behind Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong, who is demanding to be reinstated after the mayor placed him on administrative leave next week. 

Cynthia Adams, president of the NAACP's Oakland chapter, said Armstrong "did nothing wrong" and she urged Mayor Sheng Thao not only to give the chief his job back, but to investigate the federal monitor, Robert Warshaw. 

At the well-attended rally Tuesday on the steps of the Oakland courthouse, Armstrong said: "I'm from West Oakland. I won't pick a fight. But I'm not running from one." 

As he spoke, the crowd carried black-and-white signs that read, "Bring Armstrong Back" and "Chief Armstrong Matters." 

Dozens of people clapped and cheered for Armstrong – born and raised in West Oakland.  

The NAACP was supported by 100 Black Men, Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, Pastors of Oakland, Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce, Councilmember Noel Gallo, and other Oakland leaders. 

Thao put Armstrong on leave on Jan. 19,  one day after a scathing report pointed fingers at him for mishandling two department investigations.

The 16-page report, conducted by the law firm, Clarence Dyer and Cohen LLP – which Warshaw asked for – revealed that Armstrong didn't hold a sergeant accountable after he ripped a neighbor's Mercedes bumper off in 2021 in a hit-and-run and later fired his gun in an elevator at police headquarters the following year.

The sergeant didn't admit to either of those instances initially. In fact, he denied having any recollection of the hit-and-run – even though it was captured on video – and he threw away the shell casings from the elevator incident in the bay, before eventually coming forward.

Armstrong didn't appropriately discipline the sergeant or those superiors who downplayed his actions, revealing a shoddy Internal Affairs process, the law firm found.

MORE: What's next for Oakland now that police chief has been put on administrative leave

The firm, which was hired by the city to investigate the department, said Armstrong violated department rules because he failed to hold officers accountable and allowed them to escape discipline. 

"Most disturbingly," the report authors wrote, "some of the deficits appear to stem from a failure of leadership and a lack of commitment to hold members of the Oakland Police Department accountable for violations of its own rules…. These investigations revealed issues and shortcomings that go beyond the conduct of individual officers to the very question of whether the Oakland Police Department is capable of policing itself and effectively holding its own officers accountable for misconduct."

The sergeant was last placed on administrative leave in April 2022, which Oakland police confirmed is still the case as of this week.

In his first public comments since having his badge being taken away, Armstrong on Monday – flanked by his attorney and PR representative Sam Singer – denied any wrongdoing as he made a plea to get his job back. 

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People hold up signs in support of Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong who was put on administrative leave on the courthouse steps. Jan. 24, 2023 

"I know I did nothing wrong," Armstrong said at a news conference. "This is offensive to Oakland. And as an African-American chief who is trying to change the way this police department works in this community, it's offensive." 

He said he did the best he could with the information he had at the time. And he called what the sergeant did – a hit-and-run and then not being truthful about it later – a "minor" deal, not worthy of a big scandal. 

Instead of placing blame on Thao, Armstrong fired back at Warshaw – hired to work for U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick, who has federal oversight powers over the Oakland Police Department because of the "Riders" lawsuit filed in 2003 to reform the troubled department.

OPD is still under this oversight today – 20 years later – the longest running federal consent decree in U.S. history. 

Warshaw's job is to monitor the progress of the department's reforms and he makes recommendations to the judge as to whether he thinks the agency can be freed from this oversight.

Warshaw also has the power to fire any Oakland police chief, as does the mayor. 

The city of Oakland pays roughly $1 million a year for this oversight, which dates back to 2003. Warshaw's salary, along with the salaries of attorneys and others, comprise this amount.

A KTVU analysis, however, showed that Oakland's payouts to settle excessive force cases by police have plummeted since federal oversight began.  For example, Oakland paid $57 million between 2000 and 2011. Compare that to 2015 to 2020, when that dollar amount of civil payouts dropped to $3 million.

OPD was close to seeing the May finish line to this oversight because the department has made many positive changes over the last two decades, including a much lower rate of excessive force cases and racially motivated stops. 

However, because of this latest report, civil rights attorneys Jim Chanin and John Burris are now asking for this oversight to last at least six more months until December.

At a virtual hearing Tuesday afternoon, Orrick said he was "profoundly disappointed" by the latest misconduct scandal to expose "rot within the department." But he did not take any action on extending the deparment's probationary period. The judge ordered city officials to return to court April 11.

Thao also appeared at the hearing, telling the judge she "will not tolerate toxic subcultures" in the police force. At an unrelated news conference hours earlier at City Hall, the mayor had a terse response when asked if she would reinstate the chief.

"At the end of the day, that's a personnel matter, and we're going to leave it at that," Thao said.

Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at lisa.fernandez@foxtv.com or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez.