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Oakland police chief fires back over forced leave amid misconduct scandal

The embattled police chief accused the federal monitor overseeing the Oakland Police Department of "manufacturing a false crisis to justify extending his lucrative monitoring contract."

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong, out on administrative leave following allegations of internal misconduct, blasted the city for punishing him based on a report from the federal monitor investigating the police department.

City leaders put Armstrong on paid leave Friday following new findings that officers under him concealed their involvement in dangerous public incidents — including a traffic collision in 2021 and a gun that was fired in an elevator in 2022. He released a statement Monday through high-profile PR firm Singer Associates, Inc., which worked with a real estate company that battled protesters Moms 4 Housing who occupied an Oakland property in 2020.

Armstrong said he deserves to be reinstated as "an issue of justice and fairness for the people and community of Oakland."

He is the latest chief to find his job on the line, joining a line of department leaders pushed from the job including Anne Kirkpatrick, whom a jury found was wrongfully terminated in retaliation for reporting misconduct.

Oakland Police Department has been under a federal monitor for more than two decades after a string of scandals involving multiple police officers — including alleged police brutality and sexual assault — sparking national outcry and many protests. Last summer, U.S. District Judge William Orrick III gave the department one year to be found satisfactorily in compliance with negotiated settlement requirements but an independent legal firm was retained to continue investigating officer misconduct.

A report by Clarence Dyer and Cohen LLP, made public by the judge’s order this past week, found "the actions of OPD’s Internal Affairs Division, which sought to recast, deflect, and minimize the severity of the officer’s misconduct created an environment that allowed that officer to go on to commit far more egregious and dangerous misconduct, to wit: discharging a weapon in a building full of people."

Investigators detailed a March 2021 incident where Sgt. Michael Chung crashed his vehicle and did not report the incident. In April 2022, Chung fired his gun inside an elevator at the Police Administration Building in Oakland and did not report it for more than a week. 

Armstrong said Monday that he followed all required protocols when handling the two incidents, and that the department disciplined Chung after the first incident.

After the second incident, Armstrong said, "We had begun both administrative and criminal investigations when the officer admitted to us that he was responsible for discharging the firearm. I placed that officer on administrative leave one day after his admission."

Armstrong claims Federal Monitor Robert Warshaw — now handling investigations of the department, who oversaw Kirkpatrick's ousting years ago — "took the investigation out of my hands so that he could handle it himself." He accused Warshaw of acting with "clear self-interest" and of "manufacturing a false crisis to justify extending his lucrative monitoring contract."

But others critical of the police department say the work to examine its internal investigation process must continue.

"We need true and independent oversight. We need oversight with subpoena power. We need a group of civilians who have teeth and really hold this police department accountable, and until we have that we're going to see this over and over again," said James Burch of the Anti Police-Terror Project.

Oakland's city administrator and mayor, as well as the law firm Clarence Dyer & Cohen LLP, did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

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