Oakland police chief on leave after report finds ‘systemic deficiencies’ in misconduct investigations

Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong was placed on administrative leave after an external probe found he violated departmental rules, allowing officers to escape "serious misconduct."

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The Black police chief in Oakland, California, is now on paid leave after the release of a report that found “systemic deficiencies” in how his department handles misconduct cases.

According to The East Bay Times, Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong was placed on leave Thursday after an investigation by an outside law firm found he violated departmental rules, allowing officers to escape “serious misconduct” by failing to review an inadequate internal affairs investigation.

Assistant Chief Darren Allison, the Oakland Police Department’s second-highest-ranked employee, will take on the role of acting police chief.

Oakland Police Department chief Leronne Armstrong
Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong has been placed on administrative leave following an external investigation into his handling of misconduct cases. (Photo: Screenshot/YouTube.com/KPIX CBS SF Bay Area)

“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,” Mayor Sheng Thao and City Administrator Ed Reiskin shared in a joint statement Thursday, noting that additional findings are forthcoming, according to The Times. “We must have transparency and accountability to move forward as a safer and stronger Oakland.”

Armstrong took over as chief in February 2021, promising to remove OPD from federal oversight, something the agency had endured for almost 20 years due to the infamous “Riders” brutality incidents. The Riders were a quartet of OPD officers charged with corruption in 2000 after an insider’s tip to supervisors that they were planting drugs on suspects and roughing them up while patrolling West Oakland at night.

Before the recent allegations, the department was on track to complete most of the 52 duties outlined in a 2003 agreement to resolve a lawsuit by residents who said the Riders had wronged them. Officials reportedly believed they were nearing the end of a year of probationary oversight imposed by a federal judge.

But Armstrong was criticized in a report made public on Wednesday for department-wide oversight failures to look into the wrongdoing of a sergeant who was involved in a hit-and-run accident.

The officer tore off the front bumper of a parked car while exiting his parking garage in a Chevrolet Tahoe that belonged to the department. His girlfriend — a subordinate whose relationship with him was not yet known by the agency’s leadership — was also present. According to the report, the city was only informed of the collision after receiving an insurance claim with photographic and video proof.

According to the outside firm’s assessment, the OPD lieutenant who received the claim did not immediately give the evidence to internal affairs; instead, he alerted the sergeant and instructed him to report the collision to San Francisco police.

An internal affairs investigation found that the sergeant failed to comply with departmental standards for truthfulness after he contradicted his past claims regarding when he first saw the video evidence. A police captain in a higher position in internal affairs instructed the investigator only to retain the hit-and-run violation, an act the report contended “minimized the severity of the misconduct.”

Chief Armstrong did not analyze the investigation’s findings or thoroughly discuss the matter before he signed off for approval.

In a different incident that occurred more than a year later, the sergeant admitted that he discharged his service pistol in an OPD building’s elevator and tried to hide it by discarding the shell case over the Bay Bridge, leading to the request for an independent report.

“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 Times reported.

The external investigation recommended that OPD officials sustain rules violations against Armstrong, citing his “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.”

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