Community members rally around fired Oakland Police Chief
OAKLAND, Calif. - A coalition of community members are upset that the mayor fired Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong and on Thursday, they let the city know about it.
"Our voices should have been heard," said Brenda Grisham of the Christopher LaVell Jones Foundation. Her son was killed in 1993 and she has been a staunch supporter of Armstrong.
"And yesterday, they weren't heard," she added. "Do we feel that the current administration has our back? No, we don't. Do we feel that we matter at all? No, we don't."
She was surrounded by nearly four dozen others on the steps of City Hall, all with the same message: The chief was wrongly fired.
Grisham said that Armstrong was making demonstrable strides in reducing police abuse within the department and that "as a son of Oakland," his love for the city and the residents was "evident in his work. Our mayor needs to hear the pain of her people."
PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong ‘not credible,’ confidential report finds
Armstrong thanked supporters and said he is exploring his legal options after being dismissed from the department.
"I appreciate your efforts to champion my cause and I thank you for trying to help the Mayor understand that the best path forward for the City was with me remaining as Chief," Armstrong said in a statement Thursday. "Please know that I continue to believe that my termination was the result of a fundamentally flawed process that resulted in unfair, inaccurate conclusions about me. I am continuing to evaluate my legal options to preserve my rights and my hard-earned reputation."
Mayor Sheng Thao fired Armstrong Wednesday, a bold move in her first month in office.
She said she no longer had confidence in Armstrong – the 12th chief since 2009 – in helping the Oakland Police Department get out from federal oversight.
Thao based her decision on the findings of an outside firm, Clarence Dyer and Cohen, that found Armstrong did not take Internal Affairs investigations into his rank-and-file officers seriously and there were "systemic deficiencies" within the department.
"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."
Armstrong has repeatedly maintained these findings were "baseless" and "unsupported" and that he didn't do anything wrong.
In a statement provided by his PR firm, Armstrong said: "My termination is fundamentally wrong, unjustified, and unfair."
The investigators criticized Armstrong because he said he didn't know that his subordinates were watering down reports and downplaying events related to Sgt. Michael Chung, who was involved in a hit-and-run and a separate gun discharge in a police elevator.
Community members hold a rally to supported ousted Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong. Feb. 16, 2023.
Grisham isn't alone.
The NAACP has backed Armstrong, along with other high-profile politicians and community groups.
Even the Oakland Police Commission on Wednesday night intimated that they would not have fired the chief.
The commissioners said they had serious problems with the credibility of the outside investigation.
"We are sorry to lose a reform-minded chief," chair Tyfahra Milele said.
Legendary civil rights attorney John Burris – who sued OPD in 2003 over the corrupt Riders scandal – is also an Armstrong supporter.
And he lamented the fact that the police commission wasn't more involved.
Brenda Grisham rallies for ousted Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong. Feb. 16, 2023.
On Thursday, Burris told KTVU that he was "stunned" with the termination.
He also doubts the findings of the outside investigation that the city paid more than $500,000 to conduct. Those findings found Armstrong "not credible" in many of his answers around the IA investigations and sustained him for a "gross dereliction of duty."
"You know, undermining one's credibility impinging upon is a serious matter," Burris said. "However, in reading it, I was looking to see whether in fact, the credibility issue was material. And I didn't find that the issue they determine to be credible or material in terms of the issues that were at hand."
Burris said he believes that Armstrong didn't know some in his command staff were downplaying misconduct in the department.
"Well, certainly, as the chief you're supposed to know things have taken place there," Burris said. "But he said he didn't know. I didn't see any evidence that said that he did know directly. So it was a conjecture that was made on the part of the evaluators to say, well, he must have known."
Burris added: "I didn't see evidence of gross dereliction of duty. That's a serious crime. I do not see that either."
As for what's next, the mayor and the police commission are set on finding a new chief, and the city needs to convince a federal judge to free OPD from oversight.
But all that is going to take time.
"And now we're going to have a new chief who now has to come in and learn the whole business," Burris said. "That's not an easy task. You cannot learn this in 30 days. So I just think that we have work to do."
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