Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong. Credit: Amir Aziz

Former Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong has filed a legal claim against Oakland, alleging Mayor Sheng Thao fired him in retaliation after he criticized the federal monitor who oversees the city’s police department.

The Oaklandside obtained a legal claim Armstrong filed against the city on July 17 through a public records request. Under California law, individuals seeking damages from a government agency must first file an administrative claim. The city assesses the claim and if it acknowledges that it’s responsible for harming someone, it settles, usually by paying the person filing the claim.

If the claim is rejected, the person can then file a lawsuit and the allegations will be sorted out by a judge or jury. Armstrong’s attorney, William J. Edelman, said the city has not yet responded to the claim. 

Armstrong’s claim states that former city administrator Edward Reiskin also retaliated against him. It also lists former interim City Administrator G. Harold Duffey among the individuals who allegedly caused him damages.

Armstrong didn’t include in his claim a specific amount of money he is seeking from the city, but he claims that he has lost past and future earnings and benefits since the termination, and also suffered damages for mental anguish.

According to Armstrong, he was fired after he attempted to lodge complaints against the Oakland Police Department’s federal monitor, Robert Warshaw. OPD has been under federal court oversight for over two decades as part of a settlement agreement to a lawsuit that accused the department of rampant misconduct. Warshaw was appointed monitor in 2012, a role that involves reviewing OPD’s compliance with dozens of reform tasks.

“The Mayor’s decision to terminate Chief Armstrong boiled down to retaliation for Armstrong’s statutorily and First Amendment protected criticisms of Monitor (Robert) Warshaw,” Armstrong and his attorney, William Edelman wrote.

Thao placed Armstrong on leave in January following the publication of a report by an outside law firm that concluded he was responsible for several failures in OPD’s discipline system. According to Armstrong, Warshaw used this report as an excuse to prolong federal oversight in order to continue getting paid for monitoring the city.

The underlying disciplinary cases involved police Sgt. Michael Chung who shot an elevator wall in OPD’s headquarters in early 2022. Chung tried to cover up the shooting by throwing the bullet’s shell casing off the Bay Bridge. The previous year, Chung was driving an OPD vehicle that collided with a parked car in his San Francisco apartment building. Chung and another OPD officer—a subordinate he was allegedly having an improper relationship with—didn’t report the hit-and-run. Armstrong and other OPD commanders did not ensure Chung was held accountable and subjected to the proper level of discipline in the hit-and-run case.

Days after being put on leave, Armstrong spoke at a rally in downtown Oakland where he demanded that Mayor Thao reinstate him. He also accused OPD’s federal monitor, Robert Warshaw, of corruption by engineering a “false crisis” to justify prolonging oversight of the department.  

Several weeks later, on February 15, Thao fired Armstrong. At the time, Thao said she fired the chief based on the findings of the outside investigation and the chief’s refusal to accept that the report reflected serious problems in OPD.

In his legal claim, Armstrong argues he was engaged in protected activity when he reported to the mayor and the Oakland Police Commission his belief that the outside investigations, which were completed under the monitor’s supervision, were factually baseless and inaccurate, and that Warshaw was motivated by personal gain. Armstrong argues that his statements were a matter of public concern because they “discussed wrongdoing at the highest levels of City management” in relation to the monitor.

The claim argues that Thao tied her decision to fire Armstrong to his public statements about the monitor.

“The rushed nature of the Mayor’s decision—acting to preempt the Police Commission’s own investigation and to cut-off the growing drumbeat of public support for the chief—further confirms that the mayor acted not because of any misconduct by the chief or concern about his ability to lead effectively, but in retaliation for challenging the Monitor,” the claim states.

Armstrong isn’t the only former OPD commander implicated in the Chung case who is pointing a finger at the city. Former OPD Captain of Internal Affairs Wilson Lau allegedly helped cover up Chung’s hit-and-run by improperly reducing discipline in the case. Lau left OPD to take a job with the East Bay Regional Park District Police Department before the outside investigation’s findings were made public, but he was released from this job in March. Lau filed a claim against the city in April alleging he was thrown under the bus by other OPD officers, and also accusing the federal monitor of corruption

Anne Kirkpatrick, OPD’s chief prior to Armstrong, was fired in 2020 by the Police Commission and then-Mayor Libby Schaaf after the department backslid on its reforms. Kirkpatrick alleged that her ouster was orchestrated by police commissioners who were retaliating against her after she blew the whistle on corruption. She also accused Warashaw of abusing his position as federal monitor to prolong court oversight and enrich himself. Kirkpatrick sued the city and after the case went to trial a jury awarded her $337,675.

Tyfahra Milele, chair of the Oakland Police Commission, echoed some of these claims in a lawsuit she recently filed against Oakland. Milele has accused Jim Chanin, a civil rights lawyer and head of a panel that selects some members of the Police Commission, of abusing his power by trying to stop her and another commissioner from being reappointed because they threaten his financial interests. Chanin has received compensation from the city over the years for working on OPD’s court-ordered reforms. He was co-counsel on the litigation that resulted in Oakland being put under federal oversight.

Correction: the original version of this story misstated the amount the jury awarded Anne Kirkpatrick.

Eli Wolfe reports on City Hall for The Oaklandside. He was previously a senior reporter for San José Spotlight, where he had a beat covering Santa Clara County’s government and transportation. He also worked as an investigative reporter for the Pasadena-based newsroom FairWarning, where he covered labor, consumer protection and transportation issues. He started his journalism career as a freelancer based out of Berkeley. Eli’s stories have appeared in The Atlantic, NBCNews.com, Salon, the San Francisco Chronicle, and elsewhere. Eli graduated from UC Santa Cruz and grew up in San Francisco.