Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong at McClymonds High School on Feb. 9, 2021 during his swearing in ceremony. Credit: Amir Aziz

Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong, who is on administrative leave following the publication last week of a scathing report that faulted him for failing to hold subordinate officers accountable for misconduct, accused the department’s federal monitor, Robert Warshaw, at a press conference today of trying to oust him in order to keep OPD under federal court oversight.

Under Armstrong, the department was making progress on its nearly 20-year-old court-ordered reforms, and OPD was on track to regain full independence in May.

“As Oakland neared the end of its monitorship after demonstrating sustained compliance under my leadership as Chief, Mr. Warshaw acted in the interest of his own pocketbook by manufacturing a false crisis to justify extending his lucrative monitoring contract,” Armstrong said.

“I deserve to be reinstated as Chief of Police immediately by the city of Oakland. It is a matter of justice, due process, and fairness,” Armstrong told reporters today.

In doing so, Armstrong echoed complaints about federal oversight made by Anne Kirkpatrick, who was fired in February 2020 by the Oakland Police Commission and then-Mayor Libby Schaaf.

After she was terminated, Kirkpatrick accused Warshaw, who was appointed monitor in 2013, of orchestrating her removal in order to maintain a job for which he and his team of police consultants are paid about $700,000 per year. 

Oakland is one of several cities that Warshaw has overseen in this capacity; others, like Detroit, have exited federal oversight by proving they can sustain the mandated reforms. While he is paid by the city, Warshaw reports to U.S. District Judge William Orrick, and in previous court hearings, Orrick has stated that he has complete confidence in Warshaw.

Also following Kirkpatrick’s footsteps, Armstrong has hired the crisis communications manager Sam Singer to handle press for him. An East Bay resident, Singer’s firm helped Chevron with crisis communications after its 2012 Richmond refinery fire spewed toxic chemicals into the air, and helped with the oil giant’s public relations work related to a lawsuit accusing it of destroying part of the Amazon rainforest and harming Indigenous tribes.

Singer organized multiple press conferences for Kirkpatrick where she pushed back on her firing, and he put together a going-away party outside the Oakland Police Officers’ Association’s union building, where the former chief was given a tearful goodbye.

Will Armstrong sue the city?

Although he hasn’t been fired, Armstrong has also retained an attorney, Will Edelman, a former police officer and federal prosecutor. Edelman’s presence could mean that Armstrong is considering legal action.

Kirkpatrick filed a lawsuit against Oakland in August 2020, and last May, a federal jury ruled that her termination was in retaliation for blowing the whistle on misconduct by members of the police commission. The jury awarded her $337,000 in damages.

The trial also revealed that while the police commission and then-Mayor Schaaf chose not to cite any specific reason for firing Kirkpatrick, internally, the police commissioners had been concerned about the former chief’s failure to make progress on the reform process overseen by Warshaw and Judge Orrick. Under her leadership, OPD fell out of compliance with five of the 52 tasks OPD needed to achieve to emerge from federal court oversight.

Kirkpatrick was also criticized for her handling of the Joshua Pawlik case. Pawlik, an unhoused Oakland resident, was killed by five officers in 2018. Kirkpatrick declined to fire the officers but was overruled by Warshaw. Last year, a state judge ruled the officers were improperly fired by the city and ordered they be rehired with back pay.

What’s next: city officials appearing in federal court to discuss OPD oversight

In his press statement, Armstrong said he acted properly during the recent investigations of a sergeant who was involved in a hit-and-run and a shooting in an elevator at OPD headquarters.

Outside investigators hired by the city after Warshaw ordered an independent review found that Armstrong failed to thoroughly review the discipline handed down to the sergeant in the hit-and-run case. They also found that the captain of internal affairs improperly had discipline reduced so that the sergeant could keep his job, and Armstrong didn’t intervene in the case to reverse this.

City officials are required to appear in federal court tomorrow to discuss the status of OPD’s federal oversight. In a brief filed with the court today, City Attorney Barbara Parker wrote, “We agree that the investigation [of the hit-and-run and gunshot incident] revealed failures that call into question the integrity of the Department’s internal investigation processes.” But the city stopped short of saying it agrees with the finding that Armstrong was personally responsible and should be fired.

Civil rights attorneys John Burris and Jim Chanin, who filed the lawsuit in 2000 that led to the department being placed under federal oversight, were much more critical of OPD and the chief in their brief to the court, writing that the outside investigators’ report about the hit-and-run and gunshot case “echoes some of the catastrophic failures that plagued OPD at earlier points in the NSA process.” They asked Orrick to keep OPD under oversight for at least six more months so that processes can be put in place that would prevent the chief and internal affairs captain, now and in the future, of showing favoritism in discipline cases.

There is “substantial cause” to believe that Chief Armstrong committed serious violations of department rules by failing to “hold his subordinate officers to account,” Burris and Chanin wrote.

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.