Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said his department's officers violated rules regarding use of tear gas on June 1, 2020. Credit: Amir Aziz

Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong was placed on administrative leave Thursday, according to multiple sources close to the police department and city administration who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

Armstrong, who was sworn in as chief in February 2021, has been with the department for two decades. Over the past two years, he managed to lead OPD toward greater compliance with its 20-year-old reform program that is overseen by federal judge William Orrick. And OPD was on track to bring an end to its federal oversight this year.

But on Wednesday, Orrick ordered that a scathing report about the handling of two recent police misconduct cases be made available to the public. Drafted by an outside law firm, the report found that Armstrong failed to hold subordinate officers accountable for serious misconduct and allowed a flawed internal affairs investigation to be closed with very little review.

Mayor Sheng Thao confirmed the news in a press release Thursday evening, saying that she and City Administrator Ed Reiskin placed Armstrong on leave as a direct result of the report. “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’s statement read. “We must have transparency and accountability to move forward as a safer and stronger Oakland.” Thao declined to give any further information, citing “additional findings” that are forthcoming from outside investigators.

Assistant Chief Darren Allison will serve as acting chief of police immediately.

The two police misconduct cases involved a police sergeant who was involved in a hit-and-run in a parking garage and a mysterious firearms discharge in a freight elevator at OPD headquarters. According to the new report, an OPD internal affairs investigator wanted to discipline the sergeant for causing the crash, which damaged a parked car, and for leaving the scene of the accident, but the commander of internal affairs reduced the discipline for the sergeant. Armstrong signed off on the internal affairs report and discipline without reading it.

Later, the same sergeant shot the wall of an elevator and then covered up the shooting by throwing the empty shell casing off the Bay Bridge. When the city realized the same officer was suspected of misconduct in both cases, they brought in the law firm Clarence Dyer Cohen to do an independent investigation.

The attorneys wrote that Armstrong failed several times to ensure the car collision case was properly investigated and that appropriate discipline was handed down to the sergeant. Armstrong didn’t permit extensive discussion of the internal affairs report about the incident when it was presented at a meeting in December 2021, and he signed off on the findings without reading it.

Placing an employee on leave is usually something that’s done with workers who are members of the city’s unions, as it is one of the due process protections they’re afforded when they are accused of misconduct. As police chief, Armstrong isn’t a member of any city union. Rather, he’s an at-will employee who can be fired by the police commission for cause, or mayor for any reason. But the decision to place him on leave indicates that the mayor hasn’t made her mind up yet about whether or not to fire him and is waiting on more information.

Before joining The Oaklandside as News Editor, Darwin BondGraham was a freelance investigative reporter covering police and prosecutorial misconduct. He has reported on gun violence for The Guardian and was a staff writer for the East Bay Express. He holds a doctorate in sociology from UC Santa Barbara and was the co-recipient of the George Polk Award for local reporting in 2017. He is also the co-author of The Riders Come Out at Night, a book examining the Oakland Police Department's history of corruption and reform.