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DA Reopens Probe Into Cop at Center of Oakland Police Chief’s Suspension

Written by Jonah Owen LambPublished Jan. 28, 2023 • 3:36pm
Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong takes questions during a press conference at police headquarters in Downtown Oakland on Dec. 27, 2021. | Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images

When the Oakland Police Department last month presented a criminal case against one of its sergeants to then-Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, her office declined to file charges, according to an official with the office of newly elected Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price.

Now Price’s police misconduct unit will review that case and potentially file criminal charges against the sergeant at the center of an ongoing scandal that led to Chief LeRonne Armstrong being put on paid leave, the DA’s Director of Public Accountability Kwixuan Maloof told The Standard. 

The sergeant, identified by Oaklandside as Michael Chung, was found in a recent independent report to have fired his gun in a department elevator and hidden evidence of the incident—which could now lead to criminal charges. 

Sgt. Sean Fleming, with OPD's internal affairs, was asked to present the case to the DA by next week, Maloof said. The same officer had previously given the case to the DA, who declined to file charges, he said. 

The potential charges are the latest turn in a scandal over how Armstrong and the former head of internal affairs dealt with the sergeant’s discipline in the shooting case and a hit-and-run in San Francisco.

A photo that was included in an insurance claim document obtained by The Standard shows damage to 2015 Mercedes-Benz S-Class S600 sustained during an unreported hit-and-run incident by an Oakland Police Department vehicle.

Oakland’s new Mayor Sheng Thao put Armstrong on paid leave on Jan. 19 after a report found the Oakland Police Department did not properly discipline the sergeant for the two incidents.

The report was written by a law firm Oakland hired to investigate the incidents at the direction of a consent decree monitor who’s been overseeing the department’s reform efforts for two decades. 

A spokesperson for the mayor told The Standard that her office is reviewing the sergeant’s case and expects the law firm to release more information.

The Oakland Police Commission also asked to review the case.

Commision Chair Tyfahra Milele told The Standard that once the review is complete, she and her colleagues will decide if any action is warranted.  

The commission has the power to fire the chief with cause, as it did Oakland police's last chief, Anne Kirkpatrick, who was ultimately found to have been wrongly dismissed. The mayor can fire Armstrong without cause, as he serves at her pleasure. 

Armstrong defended the way he handled the discipline cases and held a rally with supporters late this week to demand his immediate reinstatement.

The chief said he disciplined the sergeant for the hit-and-run, but was unable to do so for the elevator incident because the federal monitor took over the investigation. Armstrong accused Robert Warshaw, the court-appointed watchdog, of acting in “his own clear self-interest.”

In the federal monitor’s latest report to the judge overseeing the department’s consent decree, there was no mention of the discipline issues. 

The department did not respond to a request for comment on the potential of criminal charges. The sergeant’s attorney, Michael Rains, also declined to comment. 

The Incidents 

The Oakland Police Department found out about the March 2021 hit-and-run months later when an insurance claim asked the city to pay for the damage, according to the law firm’s report.

The department identified two people in the vehicle—a sergeant and an officer. The video showed them pulling suitcases through a San Francisco parking garage to a OPD-owned Chevrolet Tahoe. The report said the officer and sergeant were in an unreported romantic relationship and that neither tried to notify the car’s owner or report the incident to superiors. 

The sergeant did receive training and counseling as punishment, according to the independent report, which said he was also told to report the incident to San Francisco police. 

But the San Francisco Police Department said no such report exists after it was requested by The Standard. 

The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for comment Friday about whether it plans to file charges in the case.

The second incident, which is now the subject of the Alameda County DA’s review, happened in April 2022 when officers at an Oakland police building discovered a bullet strike mark in an elevator, which had not been reported. More than a week later the sergeant admitted to the incident, and said he tried to cover his tracks by throwing the shell casing into the bay while driving over the Bay Bridge.

While the sergeant was put on paid leave, the report said OPD failed to “effectively investigate and discipline a sergeant of police who broke the law and failed to report his own misconduct.”

The report made no mention of the criminal case presented to the DA in December and didn’t say whether the department disciplined the other officer, who was present at both incidents.

Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at [email protected]

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