Oakland puts Chief Armstrong on leave after report cites leadership failure in continued police misconduct
on January 20, 2023
Oakland officials acknowledged Thursday night that Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong was put on paid administrative leave in light of an investigation by a law firm the city retained to look into allegations that a sergeant was not disciplined for failing to report a car crash and firing his gun in the Police Department’s elevator.
The city issued a news release hours after The Oaklandside reported Armstrong’s leave, citing confidential sources.
“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,” read the release by Mayor Sheng Thao and City Administrator Ed Reiskin. “We must have transparency and accountability to move forward as a safer and stronger Oakland.”
In a report dated Saturday, the firm Clarence Dyer & Cohen found “systemic deficiencies in the Department’s ability to investigate misconduct of its members.” The report was filed with a court order Wednesday by U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick, who is charged with monitoring the department after widespread corruption was exposed in 2000.
Dyer & Cohen investigators found that the department’s Internal Affairs Division’s decision to deflect the sergeant’s misconduct in the hit-and-run, enabled that officer to commit the more egregious firearms offense.
“The multiple failures, at every level, to hold this sergeant responsible, belie OPD’s stated position that it can police itself and hold its members accountable for misconduct,” the report said. For the public’s sake, the report concluded, OPD must “commit to more rigorously investigating misconduct to prevent the recurrence of similar, or more serious, events in the future.”
The report did not name the sergeant at the center of two of the investigations. It said the hit-and-run occurred on March 25, 2021, in a San Francisco parking garage with a department-owned SUV. Another Oakland officer, whom the report says the sergeant was dating, witnessed the collision, which ripped the front bumper off of a parked car. Though the sergeant stopped the car for a few seconds, neither got out or reported the crash, which was captured on surveillance video.
While an Internal Affairs investigator found that the sergeant had violated the law, the report said a captain ordered the investigator to downgrade the findings. That has prompted a third investigation by Dyer & Cohen, into the department’s handling of the cases. The report said those findings will be addressed in a separate, confidential report.
A year after the hit-and-run, the same sergeant fired his gun in a department freight elevator, striking the wall. On April 25, 2022, nine days after the shot was fired, the sergeant admitted to discharging his weapon and discarding evidence by throwing the shell casing off the Bay Bridge.
The report called the department’s inability to follow the law and its own policies, “a failure of leadership.”
In a statement Friday, City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas said the report underscores the need to shift the Internal Affairs Division’s responsibilities to the civilian Community Police Review Agency, as directed by the City Council in June 2021.
“OPD should not investigate its own officers’ misconduct,” she said.
Armstrong, a West Oakland native, has been with the Oakland Police Department since 1999 and in February 2021, was promoted to chief, a job with a salary range of $239,633 – $306,555 annually.
He followed Anne Kirkpatrick, the city’s first female police chief, who was hired in 2017 and fired in 2020. Kirkpatrick won a lawsuit against the city in June, claiming she was fired after raising concerns about abuse of power within the Police Commission.
In Armstrong’s absence, Assistant Chief Darren Allison will serve as acting chief.
The department has been under federal oversight since 2003, when it entered into an agreement with the federal government that promised reforms to address the “riders” corruption and brutality case involving several officers. More than 100 plaintiffs were involved in the civil rights lawsuit against the city, which ended with an $11 million settlement.
This story was updated with the council president’s statement.
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