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  Bay Area News Group -- Chief Bisa French Returns
July 20, 2022

Richmond police chief returns to work after saga involving relative who accused her of domestic violence

Pending motion over firearms in Contra Costa

Richmond Police Chief Bisa French is photographed in her office at the Richmond Police Department on Friday, July 24, 2020. (Dylan Bouscher/Bay Area News Group)
Richmond Police Chief Bisa French is photographed in her office at the Richmond Police Department on Friday, July 24, 2020. (Dylan Bouscher/Bay Area News Group)

By NATE GARTRELL | | Bay Area News Group

PUBLISHED: July 20, 2022 at 6:00 a.m. | UPDATED: July 20, 2022 at 7:39 a.m.

RICHMOND — Richmond police Chief Bisa French is back on the job, after being on administrative leave for nearly a year after she and her husband, an Oakland police sergeant, were accused of abuse by a family member who they believed was being manipulated by her pimp.

Bisa French’s reinstatement brings to a near-end a bizarre saga that started last October, and ensnared three Bay Area police departments. It all started when she and her husband, Oakland police Sgt. Lee French, were accused by a relative, a then-18-year-old woman, of domestic violence and criminal threats against her boyfriend, 34-year-old Joe Goldman, also known as Ojo McNair and Oho McNair, of Napa. The Frenchs in turn accused Goldman of trafficking their relative.

“It’s just been a nightmare for them to have to live through this and to see the destruction of a wonderful, vibrant young woman,” said Mike Rains, an attorney representing the Frenchs. He said the couple has phone records proving their family member was in contact with Goldman before she turned 18.

The case resulted in internal investigations at Oakland and Richmond, as well as three criminal investigations that basically went nowhere. Bisa and Lee French were cleared in domestic violence investigations by the Contra Costa and Solano district attorneys, while an Alameda County judge threw out a pimping charge against Goldman after the Frenchs’ relative refused to testify against him.

Rains said the Richmond administrative investigation has ended, clearing Bisa French, but that the Oakland police administrative investigation into Lee French is still pending. He said he is “confident” Lee French will be cleared.

Bisa French’s return was announced in a department-wide email that came Friday afternoon, just hours after a Solano County Superior Court judge struck down a restraining order request filed by Goldman last January. The request named Bisa French as the lone respondent and sought an order that she stay away from Goldman for at least two years. And questions still remain about the conclusions of the Richmond and Oakland police internal investigations.

Bisa French could not be reached for comment. French’s ascension to the position of chief had drawn wide attention when it came in mid-2020 — she was the youngest person, the first woman, and the first African-American and Latina to lead the 150-member police force.

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt said in a phone interview he was pleased by the news of the chief’s return.

“Speaking for myself, I’m glad to have Bisa back. I think she’s been a great police chief and she will continue to be, and I’m glad to have her back at work. I think she’s very well respected,” Butt said. Asked about the internal police investigation into the chief’s conduct, Butt said he believed “all investigations were resolved,” but “we have no report on the outcome.”

His comments were a contrast from the mayor’s initial reaction to the news that French had been put on leave from the police department. At that time, Butt sent out a mass public email accusing then-City Manager Laura Snideman of misrepresenting the nature of Bisa French’s leave by first telling staff it was “personal leave” and days later — after reporters were tipped off — acknowledging that French was on administrative leave. On Tuesday, Butt said, the decision to bring French back was made by the new city manager, who replaced Snideman.

Neither the Richmond police department nor the city manager responded to a request for comment about the status of the internal investigation into Bisa French.

It is not clear whether Lee French remains on administrative leave in Oakland; a spokesperson for the police department did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

The Frenchs are still subject to a stay-away order filed by their relative last October, which they agreed not to contest. Rains, claimed they did so to avoid putting their relative in a situation where she would make self-incriminating statements.

In her request, the family member filed court papers claiming 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, including at Goldman’s mother’s home in Vallejo. Rains countered that the Frenchs were trying to protect a loved one, telling this newspaper that Goldman had ruined the young woman’s life.

The family member also claimed that Bisa and Lee French were involved in the investigation into Goldman, that they notified an Oakland police investigator and FBI agent about Goldman, and that the agent interviewed the Frenchs’ family member before Goldman was arrested or charged.

A Contra Costa judge still needs to rule on a motion by the relative claiming the Frenchs violated by possessing firearms. Rains argued in court records that the stay-away order didn’t prohibit them from continuing to have their own guns. A hearing has been set for September.