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Former Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong Sues City for Wrongful Termination

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Former Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong speaks with a microphone in hand while in full uniform.
Former Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong (pictured) is suing the city for wrongful termination. The lawsuit alleges that Mayor Sheng Thao fired him because she bowed to pressure from the federal monitor overseeing the police department since 2003.  (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

On Feb. 5, former Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong sued the city for wrongful termination. The lawsuit (PDF), filed in the Superior Court of California, County of Alameda, alleges Mayor Sheng Thao fired Armstrong because she bowed to pressure from the federal monitor overseeing the police department since 2003. Armstrong also claims that federal monitor, Robert Warshaw, is motivated by personal financial gain to keep the police department under oversight.

Armstrong, who became chief in 2021, is seeking an unspecified amount for damages and to be reinstated as chief.

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Catch up fast: Thao placed Armstrong on paid administrative leave in January 2023 after allegations emerged that the police department improperly investigated misconduct charges against a sergeant who was accused of a hit-and-run collision in 2021 and discharging a firearm in an OPD elevator in 2022. That sergeant covered his tracks by throwing the bullet casing off of the Bay Bridge. Thao fired Armstrong in February 2023.

The context: A class-action lawsuit of 119 Oakland residents exposed a group of police officers known as the Riders for vicious, illegal beatings and tampering with evidence. The department was placed under federal oversight. Since oversight began, Oakland has had 13 chiefs, including Armstrong.

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What we are watching: Thao declined to comment, but we’re interested to see if she changes her stance in the coming weeks. Will Warshaw comment on the lawsuit? In 2023, he said OPD was on the verge of emerging from oversight.

The search for a permanent chief: The Oakland Police Commission is tasked with delivering names of potential candidates to Thao. She rejected three names sent in December, which prompted the commission to restart its search.

The opposing view: A report by an administrative hearing officer found significant inaccuracies in the investigation that led to Armstrong’s firing. Retired Judge Maria P. Rivera urged Thao to meet with Armstrong to discuss “the possibility of reinstatement.” Rivera disagreed that the federal monitor was motivated by financial gain, finding no evidence to substantiate his allegations.

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