OAKLAND — Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong was placed on administrative leave on Thursday, multiple sources have told the Bay Area News Group, in a move that comes on the heels of a report that found “systemic deficiencies” in how his department investigates misconduct cases.

Four law enforcement sources with knowledge of the situation confirmed that Armstrong was placed on leave.

Later Thursday, newly-seated Mayor Sheng Thao and City Administrator Ed Reiskin announced they put Armstrong on paid leave, following the release of an investigation by an outside law firm that concluded the chief had violated department rules for allowing officers to escape “serious misconduct” by failing to review an inadequate internal affairs investigation.

“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,” Thao and Reiskin said in a statement. “We must have transparency and accountability to move forward as a safer and stronger Oakland.”

Assistant Chief Darren Allison, the second-highest ranking member at OPD, will serve as acting chief, the officials said.

The decision could mark the beginning of the end of Armstrong’s two-decade career with OPD. The West Oakland native and McClymonds High School graduate was appointed as chief in February 2021, following the termination of Chief Anne Kirkpatrick. A call made to Armstrong’s cell phone this afternoon went directly to voicemail.

Over the past decade, the OPD has seen chiefs come and go, including two separate times where the city cycled through three police chiefs in the span of a week. Kirkpatrick, who was fired by Schaaf and the Oakland Police Commission in 2020, succeeded Chief Sean Whent, who was the fourth permanent chief of the department since 2009.

Upon being sworn in as chief, Armstrong had vowed to get OPD out from under federal oversight, where the department has remained for nearly two decades following the infamous “Riders” brutality cases.

Oakland police Chief LeRonne Armstrong discusses the homicide of a two-year-old child during a press conference at police headquarters on 7th Street in downtown Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022. To the let is police Captain David Elzey. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)
Oakland police Chief LeRonne Armstrong discusses the homicide of a two-year-old child during a press conference at police headquarters on 7th Street in downtown Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022. To the let is police Captain David Elzey. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group) 

After backsliding under Kirkpatrick, OPD under Armstrong’s leadership made strides in achieving court-mandated reforms. Last year, Orrick placed OPD in a one-year probationary period, a signal that the department was close to emerging from oversight.

His arrival came as homicides and gun violence surged in Oakland – mirroring a nationwide trend of surging violent crime that began with the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Armstrong responded by shifting dozens of officers to East Oakland in the first part of 2022, and later pivoted to focusing officers’ attention on high-crime areas in East and West Oakland, relying heavily on the department’s Ceasefire program. As the year began drawing to a close, he declared the strategy was working.

But the explosive report, compiled by an outside law firm and released Wednesday by a federal judge, pilloried the chief over department-wide failures to investigate misconduct by a sergeant who had been involved in a hit-and-run collision.

While pulling out of his parking garage in a department-issued Chevrolet Tahoe, the officer had ripped off the front bumper of a parked vehicle. His girlfriend, a subordinate officer whose relationship with him had not been disclosed to the department’s leadership, was in the vehicle with him. The collision came to light only after the city received an insurance claim with photo and video evidence, the report states.

But the OPD lieutenant who received the claim didn’t immediately provide the evidence to internal affairs and instead tipped off the sergeant, telling him to file a report of the collision with San Francisco police, according to the firm’s report.

When he was interviewed by an internal affairs investigator, the sergeant contradicted his prior statements about when he saw the video evidence, leading the investigator to conclude that the sergeant had not met department standards for truthfulness.

Later, an Oakland police captain who ranked higher in internal affairs directed the investigator to remove everything but the hit-and-run violation, which “minimized the severity of the misconduct,” according to the report.

When the investigation was presented to Armstrong, he signed off on the findings without reviewing them or even fully discussing the incident.

The outside report by the firm was commissioned after the sergeant admitted — in a separate incident, more than a year later — to discharging his service weapon in the elevator of an OPD building and covering up what happened by tossing the shell casing over the Bay Bridge. He remains on administrative leave.

“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 states.

The latest revelations arrive as OPD was thought to be in the final stages of federal oversight. Robert Warshaw, a federal court-appointed monitor, had determined last year that the department was on track to comply with most of the 52 tasks laid out as part of a 2003 agreement to settle a lawsuit filed by West Oakland residents victimized by the Riders.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick ordered the release of the new external report, writing that it would bring “greater public transparency and accountability” for Oakland police. A hearing on the department’s progress is scheduled for next week.

The investigation recommended the department sustain rules violations against Armstrong for “failing to hold his subordinate officers to account, for failing to engage effectively in the review of the incident and for allowing the subject officer to escape responsibility for serious misconduct.”

The report authors said “the recommended findings are contained in a separate, confidential Internal Affairs Division report.”

In their statement, Thao and Reiskin said the city “understands that additional findings are forthcoming.”

Sgt. Barry Donelan, the president of the police officer union said, “Despite the decision to place Chief Armstrong on administrative leave, Oakland residents can be assured that its dedicated police officers will continue to respond to their calls for help.”

Staff writers Harry Harris and Jakob Rodgers contributed to this report. 


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