By Paula Hawthorn
The MOBN! Board is concerned about the handling of the case against Oakland Police Department Chief LeRonne Armstrong both because the result is that Chief Armstrong, an effective Oakland leader and respected chief of police, was fired and because the process that was used was flawed. We would be delighted if Mayor Thao would reinstate Chief Armstrong, but we recognize that is probably unrealistic. But the process flaws need to be corrected, and we call on Mayor Thao to correct them.
- When Chief Warshaw (the court-appointed Monitor for the Negotiated Settlement Agreement between the attorneys for the plaintiffs & the City of Oakland) determined that there should be an outside investigation of the OPD issue, the City should have, instead of hiring outside, San Francisco attorneys to investigate, turned the case over to the Citizen Police Review Agency (CPRA). The CPRA is the investigative arm of the Oakland Police Commission, and it is exactly this sort of investigation that the Oakland public expects it to do. The CPRA is entirely separate from OPD, does its own independent investigations, and was ignored in this case. We ask why, and we would like a clear answer from the Administration why they did not first ask the CPRA to investigate.
- When the Mayor announced, first, that Chief Armstrong had been put on leave, and second, that he had been fired, those actions should have been with the very visible support of the Police Commission. Although the Mayor does have the right to fire the chief of police without consulting the Police Commission, to publicly do so is disempowering to the Police Commission.
The citizens of Oakland have twice voted for a strong Police Commission and CPRA because we believe that outside oversight of OPD is necessary. This is not a statement of distrust of this particular police department, but just a general fact: outside investigations of entities is more effective than inside investigations which is why banks don’t audit themselves, restaurants do not do their own health checks, etc.
Chief Robert Warshaw, the former police chief in Rochester NY, has been the court-appointed Monitor since 2010, and in addition the Compliance Director since 2014, and has acted as that outside oversight for these many years. But that function must be transferred to the Police Commission and the CPRA, so that Oakland can have continuing OPD oversight after the NSA sunsets.
We must ask: why did the Monitor demand that the SF attorneys investigate this case, and why did the City agree rather than turning it over to the CPRA where it belonged?
If the answer is that the CPRA does not have the capability to do this investigation, then again we ask why the City does not move to strengthen it, rather than pay the fees of the SF attorneys?
And why was the Police Commission publicly ignored? If that was because the Police Commission did not want to fire Chief Armstrong at that time, but rather to have an investigation done, why were they not allowed to do that?
Strengthening the Police Commission is necessary to get out from under the NSA.
This Post Has 4 Comments
I don’t see why you claim that reinstating Chief Armstrong is unrealistic. In fact, it is entirely realistic. There is a great amount of resentment at his firing in the Black, White and Asian communities, who are mobilizing to compel Thao to rehire him, and also are capable of mounting a Recall if she doesn’t.
This is an excellent article!!!!!
Robert L. Harris
Good article. Thank you.
I have some disagreement.
First of all there has been an established prior history of the parties/NSA Judge hiring outside Counsel.(Edward Swanson) to do investigation in situations Under Judge Henderson, a study of why so many officer discipline-discharge cases where OPD recommended firing, were being overturned by arbitrators and the sex/rape scandal of 2015-16. Then there was the all party agreement to retain the Clarence Dyer firm to investigate and prepare a report on the Instagram scandal of 2020-21 , all of which had unfolded on the watch of former Interim Chief Manheimer. There was no complaining then by OPD or community members about using a San Francisco law firm, or not allowing the Commission to direct an initial investigation by the CPRA befo9re the Court turned to an outside investigator.
But now it’s asserted that it was wrong to hire the Clarence Dyer firm, because the are not Oakland-based?. The problematic Chung investigation by IAD was first discovered not by Compliance Director Warshaw, but by plaintiff’s counsel, who then alerted Mayor Schaaf, her City Administrator and Warshaw who then all agreed on the need for an outside investigation.
With Judge Orrick’s consent, the Clarence Dyer firm was retained, with the former City Admin. signing off on the contract with the firm.
Curiously and for the first time in the NSA’s history of using outside investigators, Judge Orrick had to issue an additional order directing OPD to fully cooperate with the outside investigator. And maybe Chief Armstrong was not being forthcoming with the Commission about the investigation, too.
Commission could have gone to the former Mayor and City Administration and requested that it be briefed and provided with the information that the City and OPD already had, but it didn’t. When the Commission did learn of this situation from other sources, it fired off information requests to the Police Chief, but did not alert anyone in City or OPD leadership that it was asking for the information, so that it could be forwarded to the CPRA, for the latter to launch its own review. It never asked Mayor Thao if there were operational deadlines for the CPRA and the Commission to act, eiither . Then the Commission, from the Fall of 2022 through mid-February, did things in violation of the Charter and civil service deadlines, by trying to convene a discipline committee without a completed CPRA investigation and for that meeting on the same day that was the deadline for the Mayor to act.
OK for the Chief to retain a an attorney and a media advisor, once he was put on leave. OK to attend his supporters’ rally and thank community members for their support. But not OK to characterize Judge Orrick’s agents as ‘out-of-town bullies that have to be driven out of Oakland’. At the very least, he blew up any chance of a continued cooperative relationship with the other City defendants in the case.