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Former Oakland police chief says vindicated after report says shooting should be ‘reversed’ – The Mercury News

OAKLAND — Before former Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong was fired in February, an investigation found he failed to hold a problematic police officer accountable and made statements to outside investigators that were lacking of credibility.

Today, a retired judge reviewing Armstrong’s appeal concluded there was no reason for the fired ex-chief to face disciplinary action.

“The discipline imposed on Chief Armstrong should be rescinded and removed from his personnel file,” says the report by retired Judge Maria Rivera, author of a new confidential report obtained by this news organization.

The report — first obtained by KQED — is non-binding, meaning it cannot single-handedly force Armstrong’s reinstatement as chief of the Oakland Police Department.

But it could play an important role in Armstrong’s legal and public efforts to clear his name, which continued Monday, when he publicly declared himself vindicated.

“This makes it very clear that I did not violate policy, that I had no credibility issues and that the statements that were made about me in this investigation were unfounded,” he said.

Mayor Sheng Thao, who fired Armstrong in February, defended his decision Monday, saying it was not based on investigators’ initial findings but rather on how he embarked on a public crusade ” instinctive” to keep his job.

While on paid leave in January, Armstrong repeatedly defended his officers’ alleged wrongdoing as “mistakes” and suggested he was being improperly targeted for firing by a federal official who oversees OPD affairs.

Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao announces the firing of Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong during a press conference at City Hall in Oakland, Calif., Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group) (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)

“By immediately and prematurely defending himself personally, Mr. Armstrong failed to defend OPD’s responsibility,” Thao said. “His conduct forced me to make one of the most difficult decisions I have ever had to make.”

Rivera’s report recommends that the parties “discuss all ways in which this dispute could be resolved through negotiations, including the possibility of reintegration.”

“It would be wise for both parties, and would be of great benefit to the citizens of Oakland, to avoid the costs and consequences of protracted litigation,” the report said.

Armstrong was initially placed on paid administrative leave in January after an investigation by a San Francisco law firm determined he overlooked alleged misconduct by a sergeant under his watch.

Key details of the officer’s alleged wrongdoing – involving a hit-and-run with a parked civilian’s car – were watered down by his senior internal affairs officers, while the chief later made statements in interviews that led investigators to question his credibility, the investigation found.

Rivera’s report, however, found that the investigation contained “inaccuracies in the characterization of Chief Armstrong’s statements during his interview, making the credibility assessment unreliable.”

It goes on to determine that the investigators’ conclusions “are insufficiently supported by the record and lack appropriate context.”

The report takes no formal position on whether Armstrong should be reinstated, noting that the decision should involve “taking into account the events that have occurred, as well as political issues.”

Nonetheless, the report is likely to carry political weight. The head of Oakland’s civilian police commission on Monday offered support for the chief’s possible reinstatement.

“We were aware at the time that the accusations against the leader lacked credibility and we said so publicly,” said Tyfahra Milele, the commission chair, who earlier this year was not approved for another term as a member – largely due to the political controversy surrounding it. insistence that Armstrong not be fired.

Notably, the report does not take a position on Robert Warshaw, the federal official overseeing the OPD whose integrity was criticized by Armstrong.

Jim Chanin, a civil rights attorney whose lawsuit against OPD two decades ago led to the department being placed under federal oversight, said he had his own qualms about the January outside investigation.

But, echoing the mayor, Chanin said it was Armstrong’s public campaign against authorities – not the initial scandal – that led to his loss.

“It’s hard to see how he could expect to be in the department or the police chief when he thought the comptroller was corrupt and the mayor was his pawn,” Chanin said in an interview.


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