Oakland police chief fired after alleged cover-up of officer misconduct: ‘Significant cultural problems’

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The city of Oakland, California, fired its police chief on Wednesday over the alleged cover-up of an officer’s misconduct, marking the loss of the city’s seventh head of police since 2016 as the department nears 20 years under federal oversight.

Democratic Mayor Sheng Thao announced she was firing Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong after an independent investigation concluded the chief and the department failed to properly investigate and discipline Sgt. Michael Chung, who was involved in a hit-and-run with his patrol car in 2021.

A separate incident also showed Chung fired his firearm inside an elevator at police headquarters, according to The Associated Press.

Thao, who took office last month, said in a lengthy statement the federal judge overseeing the city said he was “profoundly disappointed” in the evidence he’d seen, and the report demonstrated “significant cultural problems” within Oakland PD.

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Oakland police chief LeRonne Armstrong speaks during a press conference outside City Hall in Oakland, California, on Aug. 30, 2022.

Oakland police chief LeRonne Armstrong speaks during a press conference outside City Hall in Oakland, California, on Aug. 30, 2022. (Jessica Christian/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)

The issues were determined serious enough to render Oakland PD out of compliance with an important requirement of a negotiated settlement agreement initially decided upon in January 2003.

Thao said she personally believes the report shows continued reform is absolutely necessary in order to address issues that have been brought to light.

“As Oakland continues to improve its police department, we must be confident that our Chief will be effective in making sustainable improvements that can be recognized by the federal monitor, the federal court and the people of Oakland,” Thao said.

She said that she admires Armstrong, made her decision difficult, but she had to put personal relationships and feelings aside in order for progress to continue.

“Chief Armstrong has my respect and appreciation for his service to the Department and to the City that he grew up in and that he loves dearly. He will continue to have my respect and appreciation,” Thao added.

She also made clear there are many Oakland police officers who serve the public with integrity and work “extremely hard” to maintain and build trust within the community, but the high standards set for the officers must also be achieved in leadership.

Armstrong was placed on paid administrative leave last month while the mayor reviewed investigations by the department’s federal monitor that found Armstrong responsible for “gross dereliction of duty.”

Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao announces the firing of Oakland police Chief LeRonne Armstrong during a press conference at City Hall in Oakland, California, on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023.

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

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According to The Associated Press, probes by the law firm of Clarence Dyer and Cohen determined Armstrong failed to investigate and discipline Chung after he hit a Mercedes parked in the stall next to his patrol vehicle while leaving the parking garage of his San Francisco apartment building. 

The report, first obtained by KTVU-TV and made public by local outlet Oaklandside, found Officer Kayla Brandwood was with Chung during the incident on March 25, 2021. Though Chung stopped for approximately five seconds, neither officer stepped out of the car after the collision. Surveillance footage from the parking garage reportedly showed the impact from the collision “ripped” the front bumper off the Mercedes.

The crash was never reported to supervisors, and the city only became aware of the incident when it received a claim from Progressive Insurance detailing what happened. 

In its 56-page report, the law firm said a police captain in the department’s Internal Affairs Division downplayed the hit-and-run incident and coached the investigating officer to draft a report that allowed Chung to escape discipline.

A year later, in 2022, Chung fired his service weapon inside an elevator at OPD headquarters, got rid of the evidence, and did not inform his supervisors until a week later, according to The AP. He has reportedly been on paid administrative leave since then.

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An Oakland Police patrol car sits in front of the Oakland Police headquarters on Dec. 6, 2012 in Oakland, California.

An Oakland Police patrol car sits in front of the Oakland Police headquarters on Dec. 6, 2012 in Oakland, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Oakland police made national news in 2000 after a rookie officer came forward to report abuse of power by a group of officers known as the Oakland “Riders.” Four officers were charged with making false arrests, planting evidence, using excessive force, falsifying police reports and assaulting people in the predominantly Black area of west Oakland, The AP reported.

Three of the officers were acquitted after two separate juries deadlocked on most of the charges. The fourth officer is a fugitive and is believed to have left the U.S.

The case led to the decision to place the department under federal oversight in January 2003. The agreement required the enactment of 52 reform measures and mandatory reporting of progress to an outside monitor and a federal judge.

Armstrong, an Oakland native with strong community support, was appointed to police chief in 2021 after more scandals plagued the department for years. He promised his priority was to enact all the reforms within a year.

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Armstrong said he was deeply disappointed in the decision to fire him, and it will be clear he committed no misconduct once all facts are evaluated, according to a statement released by representative Sam Singer.

“After the relevant facts are fully evaluated by weighing evidence instead of pulling soundbites from strategically leaked, inaccurate reports, it will be clear I was a loyal and effective reformer of the Oakland Police Department,” the statement read. “It will be equally clear that I committed no misconduct, and my termination is fundamentally wrong, unjustified, and unfair. I anticipate releasing a more detailed statement soon once I have the chance to fully digest the Mayor’s remarks.”

Oakland police chief LeRonne Armstrong speaks to members of the press and supporters in a conference at Acts Full Gospel Church in Oakland, California, on Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023.

Oakland police chief LeRonne Armstrong speaks to members of the press and supporters in a conference at Acts Full Gospel Church in Oakland, California, on Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023. (Brontë Wittpenn/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)

Armstrong was the 13th person to lead the department since the federal oversight began in 2003. He received the backing of John Burris, one of two attorneys who filed the lawsuit in 2000 against Oakland police on behalf of 119 plaintiffs.

Burris reportedly said he was disappointed that Thao based her decision on what he considers “not very strong evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Mr. Armstrong.”

The attorney, who has been meeting with the police department and the federal monitor regularly for the past 20 years, said the police department has made “great strides and positive changes” in how it deals with the community. 

“We don’t have the beating that we used to have. We don’t have people being stopped because of their race at the same level we had before. We don’t have the shooting and the use of deadly force that we had before. We don’t have the mistreatment of the mentally impaired in the same way we did,” Burris said. 

Though Burris said the issue at hand is a cultural question within policing, adding that “the disappointing part is it hasn’t changed.”

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The Oakland Police department building stands in Oakland, California, U.S., on Thursday, June 4, 2020.

The Oakland Police department building stands in Oakland, California, U.S., on Thursday, June 4, 2020. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The department was set to be free from federal oversight in June after Federal Judge William Orrick placed OPD on a one-year probationary period last year, stating “substantial compliance” had been achieved. In January, his decision to make a portion of the law firm reports public led to Armstrong’s placement on paid administrative leave.

“The report … demonstrates that the significant cultural problems within the department remain unaddressed,” Orrick said during a virtual hearing.

The city was ordered to present its plan to comply by April 4.

Oakland police did not respond to Fox News Digital’s question regarding an interim police chief.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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