OAKLAND, Calif. – As was expected, former Oakland police chief LeRonne Armstrong is suing the city, alleging that Mayor Sheng Thao illegally fired him a year ago for criticizing a federal court monitor who pressured her to oust him.
“This is an unusual wrongful termination case,” Armstrong’s attorneys said in the complaint, filed Monday evening in Alameda County Superior Court. “The city’s sole decision-maker (Mayor Thao) has repeatedly and publicly explained her reasons for the unlawful termination — and those reasons are illegal and retaliatory on their face.”
According to the lawsuit, federal monitor Robert Warshaw “transformed routine instances of lower-level misconduct into a complete indictment of OPD and Chief Armstrong.”
The lawsuit describes Warshaw’s “pattern of harshly and baselessly accusing OPD leadership of failing to hold its officers accountable” – decisions which led to lengthy and costly investigations, according to Armstrong’s attorneys.
Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong discusses what it feels like to be on administrative leave. Feb. 13, 2023
Armstrong’s attorneys also alleged Thao buckled under intimidation from Warshaw.
For example, “Immediately after” a news conference to announce the firing, Thao “openly stated to a group that she felt the monitor forced her to terminate the chief,” the lawsuit states.
And in front of at least five people, the lawsuit said, the mayor vented frustrations with Warshaw. The lawsuit does not identify those people.
Armstrong is being represented by William Edelman of Delahunty & Edelman LLP, and Billie D. Wenter of Boyer Wenter LLP.
Thao deferred all comment to the city attorney.
City Attorney Barbara J. Parker said in a statement that the city already denied Armstrong’s claim he made in July, which challenged his termination. She added the city has not yet been served with his suit.
Warshaw, who acts like a judge, does not respond for comment.
Thao fired Armstrong in February 2023 as one of her first actions after taking office.
Her decision came after an outside investigative firm found that Armstrong mishandled two police misconduct cases. An arbitrator later disagreed, though that decision was non-binding.
Thao fired Armstrong “without cause,” which would allow him to be paid severance.
She said she had lost confidence in Armstrong, who repeatedly defended his actions and blamed others for not providing him with full accounts of what the officers under investigation did.
He told KTVU in an interview that the buck stopped with him, as long as he knew about it.
Armstrong has publicly demanded his job back and has the support of the NAACP and several Oakland Police Commissioners, who submitted his name in late December to Thao as one of her choices for next police chief.
She rejected the entire list.
Oakland’s last police chief, Anne Kirkpatric, was also fired and also sued the city.
Kirkpatrick fired a whistleblower claim against the city, alleging she was fired for calling out unethical behavior by the Oakland Police Commission. She eventually received a $1.5 million payment.
The Oakland Police Commission vowed to submit a new list of police chief candidate names to the mayor by March 1.
KTVU’s Henry Lee contributed to this report.