Oakland police chief on administrative leave following scathing report

Oakland's police chief was put on paid administrative leave Thursday, one day after a scathing report pointed fingers at him for mishandling two department investigations.

Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong didn't immediately comment on the news. When he became chief in February 2021, he vowed to change the culture of the department for the better and be honest and transparent with the public. 

Three sources with inside information of the department first confirmed the leave to KTVU. 

Two hours later, Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao and City Administrator Edward Reiskin released a joint statement on the decision. 

The move is highly unusual; other police chiefs in the past have simply been fired. Putting the chief on leave is unprecedented in Oakland and he is an at-will employee. 

No one from the city has outlined the process of how – and if – Armstrong can return to his post. 

"The decision was not taken lightly, but we believe that it is critical for the safety of our community that we build trust and confidence between the Department and the public," the statement read. "We must have transparency and accountability to move forward as a safer and stronger Oakland." 

The pair added that "additional findings may be forthcoming." 

Earlier in the day, Thao added in a statement that she was "deeply concerned" about the findings in the report. 

In an interview, Councilwoman Carroll Fife said she this moves shows the "city is serious about accountability and transparency."

By late evening, the Oakland Police Commission issued a statement, which read in part: "The Commission was notified today that the City placed the Police Chief on administrative leave, which is not a disciplinary action." They added that they are bound to confidentiality on all personnel matters.

Oakland police union president Barry Donelan said in a statement that despite the fact that Armstrong is on leave, the "community can be assured" that the city's officers will respond to their calls for help. 

Assistant Chief Darren Allison will serve as acting chief of the police department for now. 

The bombshell announcement came after a 16-page report conducted by the law firm, Clarence Dyer and Cohen LLP, 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. 

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."

According to the firm's report, the sergeant was last placed on administrative leave in April 2022, which Oakland police confirmed is still the case as of this week. 

The report was made public Wednesday in U.S. District Court in relation to the ongoing federal oversight of the Oakland Police Department, now in its 20th year.

In the spring, U.S. Judge William Orrick found that Oakland police had completed enough of its reforms allowing the department to enter a one-year "sustainability period" on June, 1, 2022. 

The two civil rights attorneys, Jim Chanin and John Burris, who sued OPD in 2003 over its corrupt practices in what's known as the Riders case, both said in August 2021 that it was time to end the oversight, specifically praising Armstrong's "strong leadership." 

Instead of going to trial, the city and police department agreed to be monitored by a federal oversee and judge to ensure that reforms would take place. That oversight was only supposed to last a few years, not 20.

But now, these new revelations are raising questions about whether this oversight should end by the start of this summer.

"The sustainability period should be revoked," Chanin said. "I'm going to continue to advocate court supervision until I'm 95."

Burris added that he was very surprised that the chief was placed on leave, but he wasn't as concerned with that, as much as he hoped all the reforms achieved in the last two decades would be unraveled. 

Rashidah Grinage, a co-founder of the Coalition for Police Accountability, said she also believes the department should remain under federal oversight.

"One of the most troubling findings was that the chief signed off without actually reading the report," she said. "These revelations throw us back to the dark days of OPD when these cover-ups and preferential treatment for 'connected' guys were prevalent."

The next federal court oversight hearing is scheduled for Jan. 24.

KTVU staff, Elissa Harrington and Allie Rasmus contributed to this report. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was edited on Feb. 2 to clarify the police union's statement.