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Oakland mayor says decision to place police chief on leave was not punitive. Others disagree

Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao delivers an acceptance speech after after being sworn into office on Jan. 9, 2023. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Standing on the steps of Oakland City Hall, newly elected Mayor Sheng Thao Saturday said the decision to put the city's police chief on leave was not punitive.

Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong was placed on administrative leave by Thao following a report released Wednesday detailing allegations of police misconduct in the police department. The alleged misconduct may call into question whether the department can exit the federal oversight it has been under for about 20 years.

However, Thao said during her Saturday press conference, "I want to make sure that everyone understands that under our administration, that we take these findings seriously, and it's important that we look at taking the corrective action that is needed to make sure that we stay on track to make sure that we get out of the federal oversight."

The mayor added, "This is about public safety."

Flanked by members of her administrative staff, Thao said she was in Washington, D.C., when the decision to put the chief on leave was announced.

At the press conference, Thao said, "I cannot stand here and tell you that there hasn't been a decision made."

A spokeswoman later clarified that Thao accidentally misspoke. "She meant to say 'I cannot stand here and tell you a decision has been made,'" said Julie Edwards, the mayor's communications lead.

Former Councilmember Calls Decision Excessive

Mayoral runner-up and former City Councilmember Loren Taylor disagreed with the mayor, calling the decision to place the chief on leave excessive.

After reading the 16-page report, "I have come to the conclusion that the decision to put Chief Armstrong on Administrative leave was excessive, and if I were Mayor, I would not have done it," said Taylor in a statement issued Saturday.

"The magnitude of the discipline levied in this instance does not match the nature of the infraction documented by the report," Taylor said.

The investigative report was written by the law firm Clarence Dyer and Cohen LLP, which was hired last year by the City of Oakland.

The allegations consist of two infractions by the same police sergeant and a poor investigation by the police department's internal affairs division, which investigates officer misconduct. 

"In the report, the chief is faulted for not knowing about and not acting on information that the report acknowledges was withheld from him by Internal Affairs staff during his Friday briefing," Taylor said.

The former councilmember added, "The report also mentions that the Chief did not 'permit' extensive discussion of the case, nor did he thoroughly read the accompanying written report. Assuming that this is true, we don't have the benefit of Chief Armstrong's explanation of why he believed that deeper review and discussion were not needed.

“It could easily be that he believed the discussion to have already been sufficiently thorough based on the information presented to him and decided to move on to his review of the next case," Taylor said.

Taylor is not the only Oakland voice speaking in support of the police chief.

One example is Brenda Grisham, executive director of the Christopher LaVell Jones Foundation, which honors her son who was murdered in Oakland in 2010, said the report only tells one side of the story.

She described the infraction by the sergeant as petty and said the community is going to stand behind the chief. She has known Armstrong for years and said she sighed in relief when he became chief.

Taylor urged residents to contact the mayor and City Council to share their opinions about the decision to place the chief on leave.