Dozens of people rallied Thursday afternoon at Oakland City Hall in support of former Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong, who was fired by Mayor Sheng Thao a day earlier.

The group consisted of people from diverse backgrounds who want to clear Armstrong’s name and want to be heard. Thao unilaterally fired Armstrong on Wednesday just 90 minutes before the Oakland Police Commission was set to talk about the chief’s future in the wake of how he handled a misconduct scandal in the Police Department.

Mayoral runner-up Loren Taylor said in terms of a full and fair investigation, things could have been managed differently.

“We have a police commission for a reason,” Taylor said, and that reason is to represent the people.

Police Commission chair Tyfahra Milele on Wednesday issued a statement saying the commission respects Thao’s decision to fire the chief.

But Milele also said, “it is clear that there were questions about the credibility and quality of the outside investigation report.”

The outside investigation report detailed allegations of misconduct by an officer and how the investigation was handled by the Police Department.

Thao said the report “concluded that OPD had repeatedly failed to rigorously investigate misconduct and hold officers accountable.”

Commission caught by surprise

The report cited two infractions by the same police sergeant and a poor investigation by the Police Department’s internal affairs division, which investigates officer misconduct.

The sergeant’s first infraction, according to the report, was allegedly leaving the scene of a March 2021 collision he was involved in and failing to report the collision. The sergeant was driving a police vehicle when the collision occurred.

The second infraction involved the alleged accidental firing of a gun in April 2022 in the freight elevator of police headquarters and waiting a week to report that, the report said. The sergeant also allegedly removed evidence of the discharge, according to the report.

“We are sorry to lose an effective reform-minded Chief who led the OPD into compliance in 51 out of 52 Tasks of the Negotiated Settlement Agreement.”

Tyfahra Milele, Oakland Police Commission chair

Armstrong said the incidents did not show officers behaving badly, Thao alleged. The mayor also alleged that Armstrong did not believe the incidents showed systemic problems in the department.

Armstrong, Thao alleged, described the incidents as mistakes.

Thao did not tell the police commission that she was going to fire Armstrong before she announced it Wednesday afternoon.

“We are sorry to lose an effective reform-minded Chief who led the OPD into compliance in 51 out of 52 Tasks of the Negotiated Settlement Agreement,” Milele said in reference to reforms outlined by a federal judge who has oversight of the department as the result of a police misconduct settlement dating back to 2003.

A step backward for community relations

People at Thursday’s rally echoed that sorrow.

Oakland comedian Jerry Law said Armstrong knew the residents and is a Black person.

Law thinks Armstrong may have been the best chance the city had to change the narrative around police and Black people.

“The move right there set us back 20 steps,” Law said of Armstrong’s firing.

Armstrong is an Oakland native. He started with the Police Department as an officer in 1999 and took over as chief in February 2021.

“He has the heart of a people’s person” and not the heart of a police officer, said Pastor Fabian Robinson of Redemption Baptist Church in Oakland.

Robinson thinks Armstrong deserves his job back.

“When is the citizen’s voice going to matter to this mayor?” said Pastor Marty Peters of Victory Baptist Church in Oakland.

Armstrong said in a statement Thursday, “I appreciate your efforts to champion my cause and I thank you for trying to help the Mayor understand that the best path forward for the City was with me remaining as Chief.”

Some critics of Thao have said federal monitor Robert Warshaw is to blame for Armstrong losing his job. The critics argue Warshaw stands to gain financially by keeping Oakland police under his watch.