Richmond police chief made ‘threat of harm’, inquest found, but returned to work


Richmond brought its suspended police chief, Bisa French, back to work last week, even though a hired investigator found she was at fault in a dispute with a family member by uttering ‘a threat of harm “, among other offenses.

According to a letter written by acting chief Louie Tirona, who led the department during French’s furlough, the city took “appropriate action” in light of the misconduct finding. But the letter does not specify the action taken, and Richmond city officials did not return phone calls requesting additional information.

French had been on leave since October 2021 following a series of allegations of misconduct made by the family member; the city announced its return to its own workforce, but not publicly, on July 15.

Tirona’s letter revealed that an investigation, led by attorney Leslie Ellis at the request of the city of Richmond, backed up allegations that French threatened to harm a man she believed to be the pimp. of an 18-year-old relative, but who the relative says was her boyfriend. French also took the family member’s cellphone and opened an envelope containing his bank statement, the inquest found, also calling those actions misconduct.

Several other misconduct allegations were dismissed, deemed unsubstantiated, or French was exonerated, the letter said. It did not include any additional details about the allegations or findings.

A “confirmed” finding “means that the investigation has revealed sufficient evidence to establish that the act took place and that it constituted misconduct,” Tirona wrote.

Tirona’s letter is dated July 16, the day after French’s return was announced. French had been off duty since October 2021, when a family member accused French and her husband, Oakland Police Sgt. Lee French, for using “police holds” and other violence against her. The relative also alleged that the couple threatened her and her boyfriend, Joe Goldman, a 34-year-old Napa resident, and kept her in a Contra Costa County home against her wishes.

“I’m afraid that (Bisa and Lee French) will accept (their threats),” the family member wrote in a restraining order filed last October. The French did not contest the request for an order.

The Oakland Police Department‘s internal investigation into Lee French’s role in the incidents is ongoing. He remains on administrative leave.

Earlier this year, the Solano and Contra Costa district attorneys’ offices declined to charge Bisa and Lee French with any criminal offenses, including allegations that they threatened people in both counties.

Contra Costa Chief Assistant District Attorney Simon O’Connell cited ‘conflicting accounts between the (parties) involved, each of them presenting themselves as reliable historians regarding the dynamic family reunion’ in a letter explaining the decision. “In the absence of physical evidence, the occurrence of the incident is based solely on verbal accounts given.”

Mike Rains, a lawyer for the French, denied the allegations but said the French had experienced a “nightmare” trying to keep their loved one away from a “despicable human being” who was trafficking her. Goldman, who also goes by Ojo McNair and Oho McNair, was charged with pimping the Frenchman’s relative last year, but the charge was dismissed at a preliminary hearing.

Rains said the original complaint against Bisa French “involved 14 separate allegations, almost all of which were found to be entirely false.

“Chief French has been completely honest in discussing his interactions. … Although the Chief’s expressions … about his strong dislike of Mr. Goldman were forcefully made, there was never any threat of harm made by the Chief to Mr. Goldman, and the investigation has established.

Mayor Tom Butt, reached by phone Friday morning, said he had not yet seen the letter. Earlier in the week, Butt said he was glad French had returned to work and welcomed her back.

“I try to stay in my lane on these things. The police chief doesn’t work for the city council, she certainly doesn’t work for the mayor,” Butt said in a phone interview Friday. “She works for the city manager. It’s up to the mayor to take care of it. »

Richmond City Manager Shasa Curl did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Friday.

French’s return to work was announced the same day a Solano County judge threw out a restraining order against her, filed by Goldman, that barred French from carrying firearms. The file was not immediately available.

General Council member Demnlus Johnson III said he had not seen the report either, but offered strong support for the chief, calling her “one of the most forward-thinking police chiefs this city ​​has ever had”. Johnson said he could “adjust his feelings” if it became clear to him that French had acted inappropriately.

“It’s not a cut-and-dried question and I feel like anyone trying to portray it as such isn’t looking at the whole picture in terms of the players involved and the roles they’re playing,” Johnson said. said in an interview on Friday. He later added, “I don’t know of anyone, officer or not, who wouldn’t have had some type of feelings towards this situation if it was a family member. “

Vice Mayor Eduardo Martinez and Councilwoman Claudia Jimenez did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment on Friday.

In his email announcing French’s return, Tirona said that “the process is complete and has been resolved.

“I appreciate everyone’s continued dedication to duty and professionalism during this process; I would have expected nothing less from the team that is the best police organization in the region.


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