Three members of the Oakland Police Commission are refusing to attend meetings until the commission’s chair and vice chair term out next month.
On Tuesday, Commissioners Marsha Peterson and Regina Jackson, and Alternate Commissioner Karely Ordaz, said they think the commission’s chair, Tyfahra Milele, is mishandling the search for the next police chief by implying to the public that LeRonne Armstrong could be reappointed through a process that would be different from other applicants for the job. They also said they don’t feel safe working with the commission’s vice chair, David Jordan, who they claim became angry and physically tried to intimidate them during a recent meeting.
“We cannot run a fast track process for one person and another for other candidates,” Jackson said about the police chief search. “Such a process would be a disruption and deterrent for prospective applicants.”
In response to an interview request, Milele sent a statement saying the three commissioners are being irresponsible.
“While Oakland residents struggle with an exploding crime crisis, a disruptive minority of commissioners have been—and are continuing to try—to shut down public participation in finding a new police chief, an essential step towards dealing with the rampant criminality afflicting Oakland,” Milele said. “We will, instead, fulfill our public duty and not let that happen.”
In an interview, Jordan strongly objected to the three commissioners’ claims that he did anything to threaten or intimidate anyone during recent meetings.
He said that the commissioners have failed to show up to at least two meetings in recent months, and that they have tried to obstruct commission business to undermine the policy work he and Milele are trying to accomplish.
“(They) have essentially contributed nothing through the bulk of the year—intentionally—because they hope to make it seem as though we are dysfunctional,” he said.
There are two more regularly scheduled meetings of the police commission before Milele and Jordan term out on Oct. 16. The City Council recently voted to appoint Ordaz and East Oakland resident and former city councilmember Wilson Riles to fill the two seats currently held by Milele and Jordan.
If Peterson, Jackson, and Ordaz do not show up to future meetings, the commission will not have a quorum, meaning it can’t take any action on agenda items. This would include a meeting this Thursday where the commission is scheduled to hold a town hall meeting about the police chief search, in addition to other business.
The three commissioners said this won’t delay the official search for a new police chief, which is being conducted by a recruitment firm. They expect the firm to deliver a list of applicants to the commission in time for the full commission to interview top candidates next month.
Jordan said there’s no truth to the commissioners’ claim that Milele or anyone else is trying to fast-track Armstrong as a candidate.
“We are fast tracking no one,” Jordan said. “We are still going through the rigorous, transparent, and rapid process that we’ve been asked to complete by the mayor and the people of Oakland to find a new chief.”
A long-simmering conflict comes to a head
The announcement by Jackson, Peterson, and Ordaz that they plan to skip commission meetings until Milele and Jordan are gone appears to be the culmination of months of internal conflict among the commissioners and with an influential activist group.
The Coalition for Police Accountability, an activist group that helped create the commission, has criticized Milele repeatedly this year, saying she has veered away from established processes, marginalized some of the commissioners, and mishandled the discipline case that led to Armstrong’s termination in February. Milele has defended her record on the commission and responded that she believes the Coalition has had too much influence over the board’s work. Jackson and Peterson have attended Coalition rallies and sided with the group in its arguments with Milele.
Members of the Coalition demanded Milele’s removal as well as one of her allies on the commission, Brenda Harbin-Forte. Mayor Sheng Thao subsequently removed Harbin-Forte from the commission because her official term had expired in October 2022 and Thao said she wanted to pick someone new for the board.
In yet another twist, Milele, Jordan, and former commissioner Ginale Harris unsuccessfully sued the city this summer in an attempt to remove the head of the selection panel that nominates new members of the commission, civil rights attorney Jim Chanin, for an alleged conflict of interest. Milele, Jordan, and Harris laid out a theory in their lawsuit that there is a conspiracy among Chanin and OPD’s federal monitor to ensure OPD stays under court oversight, and that Chanin and others are seeking to get them off the commission because they’ve been effective at reforming OPD.
The search for a new Oakland police chief
Jackson, Peterson, and Ordaz said they became concerned about the police chief search process after Milele issued a Sept. 18 press statement on official Police Commission letterhead, stating that because a neutral hearing officer issued an opinion siding with Armstrong, saying essentially that he shouldn’t have been fired, the Police Commission would “consider him as a potential shortlist nominee to be sent to the mayor.” Then Milele had the commission’s agenda for Thursday’s meeting include the following language: “Should the Oakland Police Commission recommend LeRonne Armstrong be reinstated as chief of police?”
Jordan noted that there’s been support and opposition to Armstrong, and the commission felt like it needed to engage with this publicly. He said he doesn’t expect the mayor to reappoint or hire Armstrong even if the commission recommends him as a finalist.
The three commissioners say they’re neutral on the question of whether or not Armstrong should be allowed to return as chief, but that the commission should not give him any special treatment. The process, they insist, should move forward as planned, and that all interested parties—including Armstrong—should be made to apply and undergo the same interviews and other vetting.
While the commission has the responsibility of selecting finalists for the police chief job, the mayor makes the final decision on hiring. Armstrong, who filed a legal claim against the city over his termination, has said he’s open to coming back as chief. But Thao has rejected the idea of inviting Armstrong to return due to statements he made while on administrative leave, accusing OPD’s federal monitor of corruption and not taking responsibility for breakdowns in the department’s discipline process.
“Our next chief must be able to work with new leadership at the police commission, federal court, mayor’s office and our communities so that we can work to make our neighborhoods safer and finally end 20 years of federal oversight,” Thao said in a statement. “It is time for the city to move forward and allow new leadership to succeed.”
Claims of not feeling safe versus claims some commissioners are obstructing the board’s business
Peterson, Jackson, and Ordaz said they won’t attend further meetings where Jordan is present because of two incidents that made them feel unsafe.
Peterson claimed in a statement that Jordan “became physically charged” during a closed session meeting in September after she and Ordaz asked questions about a document they were working on. She said he rose from his chair and “began a loud verbal assault” on Ordaz and herself. Peterson told the chair to control the situation or she would leave and deprive the commission of a quorum. She claims that Milele did not show concern for her or Ordaz’s safety.
Jordan said Peterson’s characterization of what happened during the closed session meeting includes “egregious misrepresentations.”
According to Jordan, commissioners Peterson, Jackson, Ordaz, and another alternate, Angela Jackson-Castain, have repeatedly failed to show up to meetings this year. Jordan claims they are doing this to obstruct commission business by depriving it of a quorum. He said the commission has had to cancel two different meetings in recent months because the four of them were not present.
Jordan said Peterson and Ordaz showed up at the most recent closed session meeting with the intention of obstructing the commission’s work. He couldn’t comment on what the commission was addressing in closed session, but Jordan said after Peterson delivered a “diatribe,” he made a comment about how her behavior was not helpful.
“At that point she raised her voice and began to yell at me,” Jordan said. “And Commissioner Ordaz came to her defense and began to yell at me, at which time I turned to (her) and said, ‘You also have been doing the exact same thing.’”
Jordan said he left the room after Ordaz “began to yell at me and curse at me.” According to Jordan, Peterson and Ordaz threatened to not let the meeting continue unless Chair Milele publicly chastised Jordan, which she declined to do. After this, Jordan said the meeting continued normally.
On Tuesday, Peterson and Ordaz also accused Jordan of physically threatening a member of the public during a recent meeting. Part of the tense interaction between Jordan and a man who frequently attends Police Commissions meetings, Saleem Bey, was recorded.
Jordan said that before the open session portion of the commission’s Aug. 10 began, he received a phone call from his wife who was in tears over a family emergency. Jordan decided to stay for half an hour to vote on several critical items, noting that Peterson, Jackson, and Jackson-Castain were not present. He then asked for permission to leave the meeting, which would have to be ended because his absence would eliminate the quorum needed to vote on items.
Bey demanded that the commission not adjourn so that Jordan could go be with his family. He insisted the board take action on a particular issue and said he would hold up the proceedings by commenting on every item on the commission’s agenda.
Jordan said after Bey “verbally attacked” him he told the chair he needed to leave to take care of his family. Bey intercepted him as he was leaving the chambers, and they had a verbal altercation. Jordan publicly apologized for this incident at a subsequent commission meeting.
“If somebody you love calls you in tears, and you have somebody behaving in that way and attempting to keep you from your family in that manner, I would question anyone who could keep their cool in those circumstances,” Jordan said.