Richmond chief on leave after family member accuses her of violence, death threats in investigation that has ensnared three Bay Area police chiefs

In a case that has ensnared three police departments across the Bay Area, the Richmond police chief is on leave after she and her husband, an Oakland police sergeant, were accused of abuse by a family member who they claim is being manipulated by her pimp.

Richmond police Chief Bisa French has taken leave following several incidents involving the close family member, an 18-year-old woman, who has accused French and police Sgt. Lee French of attacking her and threatening to kill her and the man she insists is her partner. The partner, 34-year-old Napa resident Joe Goldman, was charged Wednesday with pimping the French’s family member. Lee French is also on personal leave from OPD.

Meanwhile, police in Vallejo are investigating an incident involving French and her husband at Goldman’s mother’s home there. And Oakland’s internal affairs department has launched an investigation into Chief LeRonne Armstrong’s communications with the Vallejo police chief about that incident.

Court records and interviews with authorities give differing accounts of the incidents involving the Frenchs, their family member, and Goldman. In a restraining order request, the family member claims that during an altercation at their home on Sep. 21, Bisa and Lee French used “police holds” to pin the family member down during an argument, and made repeated death threats against her and Goldman.

“I am worried (Bisa and Lee French) will go through with the killings,” the family member wrote in her restraining order request. She added that the Frenchs both repeatedly threatened to kill Goldman and members of his family, and that she felt she “would not leave their house alive” if she didn’t comply with their demands to leave Goldman. The family member wrote she left the encounter with a “swollen and bleeding” right hand and “minor scratches.”

Meanwhile, an attorney for Bisa French said the couple “wanted nothing other than to get (their family member) back and get her away from this despicable human being and have made lawful efforts to achieve that.”

A Contra Costa Superior Court judge has temporarily denied the restraining order pending the outcome of an Oct. 25 hearing, writing in court records that the allegations, “while serious, appear to involve complex issues that require a hearing.”

The restraining order requests were filed Oct. 7. That same day, the Oakland police department secured an arrest warrant against Goldman, who was arrested four days later by U.S. Marshals in Richmond, with assistance from the Richmond police department. On Wednesday, Alameda County prosecutors charged Goldman with pimping and pandering the French family member.

The criminal complaint alleges those crimes happened in June. It is unclear why authorities waited nearly four months to bring up criminal charges and issue the arrest warrant. Goldman, who also goes by by Oho McNair, has a prior human trafficking conviction, the complaint says.

According to the probable cause declaration against Goldman, Bisa and Lee French arranged for an Oakland police officer and an FBI agent to speak with their family member. The Oakland officer took the young woman to a friend’s house, and on the way, Oakland police say she admitted that Goldman was her pimp. The woman denied that she was being trafficked or that Goldman had ever abused her in the restraining order request.

Earlier this month, the woman agreed to go to an out-of-state “treatment program,” but absconded five days later, according to Oakland police investigators. The restraining order request indicates it was written from the facility. When Goldman was arrested on the 500 block of Berk Avenue in Richmond on Monday, the woman was with him, according to the probable cause statement.

Bisa French’s attorney Mike Rains told this newspaper that Goldman, “took this wonderful young woman who is an excellent scholar in high school, graduated magna cum laude, and turned her against her own family and frankly into a criminal, a prostitute.”

“They’ve committed no crimes, they’ll be cooperating fully with admin investigations and criminal investigations,” Rains said. “These allegations are simply the product of the brainwashing that’s occurred by this horrible man who has trafficked her. That’s what we’re dealing with.”

Meanwhile, authorities in Solano County are investigating allegations that Bisa and Lee French threatened Goldman’s mother after showing up at her Vallejo home on Sept. 22, according to multiple law enforcement sources. Vallejo police have not yet brought the findings of the investigation to the Solano County District Attorney to determine whether criminal charges against the Frenchs should be filed in connection with the incident. That is expected to happen in coming weeks, authorities said.

After that incident, Vallejo police Chief Shawny Williams sent Armstrong, the Oakland police chief, communications discussing what had happened, according to law enforcement sources. An Oakland police spokesperson said that the department has opened an internal affairs investigation into Armstrong’s conversations with Williams, but declined to comment further. The spokesperson said Lee French was “not privy to any parts of the criminal investigation” into Goldman.

Vallejo police did not return requests for comment on the Sept. 22 incident. Williams also did not respond to request for comment.

Bisa French, a Richmond police officer since 1998, has steadily risen though the ranks of the department. She has worked as a public information officer, assistant chief, captain in charge of the Youth Services Bureau, and a sergeant in the domestic violence unit, among other roles. She is in her second year as chief after being appointed in July 2020, when she became both the first woman, and the first Black woman, to ever hold that role.

Up until now, French’s tenure as chief has steered clear of public controversy.

Bisa French’s leave is indefinite, according to a department-wide email sent by assistant Richmond police Chief Louie Tirona, who is taking over as acting police chief during French’s absence. The email says French left due to “urgent family matters,” and adds, “If you are so inclined, please keep her and her family in your prayers.”

Rains said that Bisa and Lee French will “cooperate fully” with administrative and criminal probes, and that they will speak publicly after the investigations have ended.

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Author: Nate Gartrell

EastBayTimes