Should fired police chief be reinstated? Residents weigh in at town hall meeting.
on September 30, 2023
Nearly a dozen Oakland residents gathered at City Hall Thursday night for a town hall to discuss whether former Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong should be reinstated.
Mayor Sheng Thao fired Armstrong in February following an investigation that found he mishandled two misconduct cases.
The town hall occurred as the city’s Police Commission faces pressure from residents and Thao to find three finalists for the chief’s job, amid an uptick in violent crime.
Several attendees, including former Police Commissioner Brenda Harbin-Forte, a retired judge, and Councilmember Noel Gallo, expressed support for Armstrong.
“No man is more fit to be chief of this city than Armstrong,” Oakland resident Tim Gardner said at the podium.
Not all attendees supported Armstrong.
“The purpose of this board is to not undermine her leadership … let her lead,” resident Jenny Zilliac said, referring to Thao.
The chair of the Police Commission, Tyfahra Milele, has expressed interest in recommending Armstrong for reinstatement. Thao has said publicly that she does not support Armstrong’s reinstatement.
Armstrong was fired after a report criticized the police department’s handling of two instances of police misconduct involving the same officer. The report revealed misconduct by officers and exposed systemic deficiencies in the department’s ability to investigate its own staff.
After its release, Thao placed Armstrong on administrative leave. During his leave, Armstrong participated in rallies held by residents calling for his reinstatement.
“I’m from West Oakland. I won’t pick a fight, but I’m not running from one,” Armstrong said at a rally in January to his supporters outside the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse.
After his termination, Armstrong hired attorney Will Edelman and has since filed a legal claim against the city. Armstrong also hired Singer Associates, a public relations firm, for press communications.
He accused Robert Warshaw, the department’s federal monitor, of attempting to oust him to keep the department under federal oversight and secure his own consulting position. In his role as federal monitor, Warshaw is paid to oversee the OPD’s progress towards federal compliance. The Oakland Police Department is under federal oversight due to allegations of police misconduct, notably from the “Riders” scandal in the early 2000s.
Thao fired Armstrong on Feb. 15. In a statement released the same day, she expressed a lack of confidence in Armstrong’s ability as police chief. She said her decision was based on the results of an external investigation and Armstrong’s response to it. Thao claimed Armstrong downplayed the report’s severity, which she saw as pointing to systemic issues in the OPD.
“The Mayor’s decision to terminate Chief Armstrong boiled down to retaliation for Armstrong’s statutorily and First Amendment protected criticisms of Monitor Warshaw,” the claim stated.
Armstrong said the judge’s report vindicated him.
“The judge’s report calls for a discussion between my legal counsel and the city’s legal counsel on my reinstatement to a job that I was wrongly terminated from because of misleading and false allegations by the federal monitor’s team,” Armstrong said in a statement to Oakland North. “I look forward to having that discussion or having a settlement from the city for the wrongful way I was treated.”
The mediation report did not support all of Armstrong’s claims. Rivera found that Armstrong was not fired for speaking out on the alleged corruption by Warshaw. Milele, who has clashed with Thao about Armstrong’s firing, released a statement after the report was made public, expressing her desire to consider Armstrong for reinstatement.
“We were aware at the time that the charges against the chief lacked credibility and said so publicly,” Milele said.
The commission was divided over Milele’s decision to hold Thursday’s meeting. Commissioners Regina Jackson, Marsha Peterson and alternate Commissioner Karely Ordaz criticized Milele for suggesting Armstong be fast-tracked for the chief position. They also stated they would abstain from meetings until leadership shifts, alleging that Vice Chair David Jordan tried to physically intimidate them in a recent private meeting. In an interview with The Oaklandside, Jordan strongly denied the accusation made by the commissioners.
Only four commissioners, including Milele and Jordan, attended Thursday’s meeting. Due to the absence of a quorum of five commissioners, the town hall was converted to a public forum.
Without a quorum, the commission couldn’t vote on Armstrong’s reinstatement. Milele told the audience that she hopes for a quorum at the Oct. 12 meeting to proceed with the vote.
“We hear you and we will share your message with the mayor,” Milele told those who attended.
(Top Photo: Oakland Police Commission, from left, Rudolph Howell, Tyfahra Milele, and David Jordan. By Zane Karram)
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