OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — Oakland's police chief has been fired after several weeks on mandatory paid leave, following an outside investigation that identified major internal issues within the police department.
Mayor Sheng Thao announced at a press conference Wednesday that Chief LeRonne Armstrong will not be reinstated, saying she is not confident that he can lead the Oakland Police Department. She said her decision was based on a scathing report by law firm Clarence Dyer Cohen, made public in January by the federal judge overseeing the police department's reform. She also cited Armstrong's denial of findings of serious issues inside his department.
"This was not an easy decision but it's one I believe is necessary for that progress to continue," Thao said. "It's precisely because I admire Chief Armstrong that this has been personally difficult.
"Oakland needs a police department that welcomes opportunities for improvement, rather than immediately rejecting criticism," the mayor added. "I also believe true reform does not stop with accountability. We must also work to reform the systems that have failed and that is something my administration will focus on in coming weeks and months.
Armstrong was placed on leave last month following the report on how his officers concealed their involvements in dangerous public incidents like a traffic collision in 2021 and a gun fired in an elevator in 2022. Since then, many more pieces of the confidential investigative report have surfaced detailing Armstrong's mishandling of investigations of subordinate officers.
Sgt. Michael Chung was investigated for covering up crashing a police vehicle in 2021, and in 2022 for shooting an elevator wall in the Police Department Administration building and throwing the bullet off of the Bay Bridge. According to the outside investigation, Armstrong knew details that should have led to stronger disciplinary actions. But the chief is accused of shutting down any discussion of the case in a meeting with senior staff and signing a final report without reading it.
Thao has faced pressure for weeks to decide whether to reinstate Armstrong, who has repeatedly slammed the federal monitor and the city, calling the monitor "biased" and attending a rally to demand reinstatement.
U.S. District Judge William Orrick III said the federal monitor — in place for 20 years — will continue monitoring the department after seeing Clarence Dyer & Cohen's report finding many issues within the agency's internal review process. The city has until April to come up with a strategy to present to the judge on how the police department will achieve the required compliance with the court's assigned tasks.
The city's public relations official and the Oakland Police Officers' Association did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Oakland's Police Commission has twice demanded all documents on the investigation and Armstrong's actions from the police department, amid increasing pressure to use its subpoena power. A special meeting was set for 8 p.m. Wednesday.
Armstrong said in a statement Wednesday that he is “deeply disappointed“ in Thao’s decision.
"After the relevant facts are fully evaluated by weighing evidence instead of pulling soundbites from strategically leaked, inaccurate reports, it will be clear I was a loyal and effective reformer of the Oakland Police Department," Armstrong said. "It will be equally clear that I committed no misconduct, and my termination is fundamentally wrong, unjustified, and unfair."
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