Senator charged with ‘injuring’ Confederate monument

Published 6:45 pm Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Portsmouth Police are charging state Sen. L. Louise Lucas with two felonies in connection with damage done to the city’s Confederate monument during a June 10 protest.

Police Chief Angela Greene announced the charges — which include conspiracy to commit a felony and injuring a monument valued in excess of $1,000 — against Lucas and others during an Aug. 17 press conference. Also charged are Portsmouth NAACP President James Boyd and Vice President Louie Gibbs, as well as other NAACP members, a Portsmouth School Board member, public defenders and other protestors. The senator turned herself in to Portsmouth authorities Aug. 18 and is currently out on a personal recognizance bond.

Lucas’ 18th District covers parts of Suffolk, Franklin, and the counties of Isle of Wight, Southampton and Surry, among other localities.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The incident began the evening of June 9 as a peaceful protest, but escalated the next day after police arrested Boyd and Gibbs for allegedly trespassing on the monument while attempting to cover it with tarps and bags

A judge dismissed those charges on July 30. Following the NAACP leaders’ arrest, protestors began spray-painting the monument, and later that evening, attempted to bring down parts of it with a sledgehammer while others cheered them on. One man — Chris Green — was seriously injured when a piece of the monument fell on him.

During the press conference, Greene stated that her department began its investigation of the incident following the conclusion of the Virginia State Police’s accident investigation on July 22, and after a discussion with Portsmouth’s Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office regarding a special grand jury and a special prosecutor “did not yield any action.” A team of Portsmouth Police detectives and supervisors then began compiling all written, audio and video evidence surrounding the circumstances that led to the monument being damaged and Green’s life-threatening injury, which included a video clip of Lucas saying to Portsmouth officers the day of the protest, “They’re going to put some paint on this thing, and y’all cannot arrest them. You need to call Dr. Patton.”

When an officer objects, saying, “Ma’am, you can’t tell them to do that,” Lucas replies, “I’m not telling them to do anything. I’m telling you you can’t arrest them. Call Dr. Patton.”

Dr. L. Pettis Patton is Portsmouth’s city manager.

Sgt. Michelle Anaya, a spokeswoman for the State Police, however, has denied Greene’s assertion that the state agency had completed its investigation.

“The incident remains an open investigation,” Anaya told the newspaper on Aug. 23. “No charges have been filed or arrests made.”

Commonwealth’s Attorney excluded

Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales, in an Aug. 18 press release, said the reason her office hasn’t called a grand jury or prosecuted any of the protestors to date is because it has yet to receive complete investigative results.

“This office makes prosecutorial determination when indictments are requested upon receipt of complete investigative results … Our office released a statement on July 8, 2020, that we had not received such results and as of today, August 18, 2020, has still received no such investigative results,” Morales said.

Instead, the department chose its other option for securing arrest warrants, this being sending an officer to appear before a judge. That officer was Sgt. Kevin McGee.

According to the Virginian-Pilot, McGee had previously criticized Lucas and Morales in an email he sent to Patton and Portsmouth’s City Council the day after the protest. The existence of the email was first reported Aug. 20 in the Huffington Post, with the Pilot obtaining a copy later that day. The Smithfield Times, on Aug. 21, also requested a copy of the letter from the city under the Freedom of Information Act. Portsmouth Public Affairs Officer Dana Woodson assured the paper on Monday that it would receive a “response” to its request by this Friday.

The department claims having McGee secure warrants in this seemingly end-run around the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office was intentional.

“We utilized our traditional method of seeking warrants through the magistrate once we determined that the Commonwealth Attorney could be called as a potential witness in this case, which precluded her office from receiving and reviewing a complete investigative file on this matter,” Greene said.

According to a press release from Morales’ office, the arrest warrants and probable cause summary McGee filed lists Morales as a “potential material and eyewitness … likely to be called to testify by either the prosecution or the defense.”

A witness to what remains unclear. According to the release, Morales was not on scene the day of the protest to be an eyewitness. The release said that if Morales is served with a subpoena, her office will file a motion to quash it.

The three-page summary of facts included in McGee’s probable cause summary, which the Huffington Post made public on Aug. 20, makes no mention of Morales being at the site of the protest, but does claim other local Black leaders, among them Boyd, Gibbs and Portsmouth School Board member Lakeesha Atkinson, were in possession of cans of spray paint during the protest.

According to Lucas’ account of the June 10 incident, the senator claims she never told protestors to do anything unlawful and had merely asked police to verify with Patton under what circumstances they were allowed to arrest anyone. Lucas claims she left the scene by around 2:45 p.m., well before protestors began trying to dismantle the monument.

McGee’s statement of facts, however, claims Lucas had announced loudly to the crowd, “The city has had three years to cover it” and, gesturing to the group, yelled “let them cover it!” The group then allegedly began shaking up cans of spray paint and shouting “cover it!” Someone in the group then allegedly yelled “Y’all heard her! Go, cover it!” at which time people began climbing the protective fence around the monument, posted with a “no trespassing” sign, and began spray-painting it.

Allegations of ‘conflict’

On Aug. 19, two days after Greene announced charges against Lucas and others who attended the protest, Patton wrote her own email to Portsmouth’s City Council stating that Greene should have recused herself from the investigation.

According to that email, Greene had allegedly reported a conflict of interest on her part as it related to any investigation of incidents connected to the protest. Patton’s email didn’t specify what that conflict was.

“When a city official acknowledges a Conflict of interest, by law, they must cease all activities on the matter,” Patton wrote. “Otherwise, their participation will likely compromise the city’s interest. After learning of Chief Greene’s acknowledgement of conflict, it was my clear understanding that the city’s Police Department, under her leadership, would end all involvement in this matter.”

Patton then indicated she had only found out about the charges against Lucas and others while the police department was in the process of obtaining warrants.

Portsmouth Vice Mayor Lisa Lucas-Burke, who is Sen. Lucas’ daughter, made the email public via Facebook on Aug. 19. Burke is now joining her mother in calling for Greene to be fired.

Lucas has also claimed that the city instructed its police force not to arrest protestors. Lucas says she had been assured by Patton that no one would be arrested for trespassing or for peacefully protesting.

Portsmouth Mayor John Rowe, however, claims the city gave no such instructions to its police force prior to the protest.

“The City Council took no vote nor reached an informal consensus on this matter,” he told the Times Monday morning.

Asked about Sgt. McGee’s letter, and whether he still had a copy, Rowe’s only response was, “I do not know who secured the warrants.”

In response to Patton’s conflict of interest allegations, Greene issued another press release on Aug. 20, in which she confirmed that her reason for asking the State Police to investigate the incident stemmed from a “potential conflict” that could arise if Portsmouth Police officers were put in the position of investigating elected city officials who were present at the protest. She then reiterated her earlier claim of having “exhausted” efforts to have a special grand jury or outside agency investigate.

“It was evident that the investigation would be left up to our agency,” Greene said. “During our investigation, it was determined that although felonious acts were committed by several individuals no conflicts of interest for this department were revealed.”

Lucas’ attorney, Don Scott, stated in an on-camera interview with WAVY, “They’re doing what they always do, which is to weaponize the criminal justice system against Black leadership.”

“That’s what they’re doing this time, we’re going to fight it vehemently, we’re going to fight it vigorously,” Scott said.

Virginia’s Legislative Black Caucus issued a statement on Aug. 17, condemning the charges against Lucas.

“The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus (VLBC) strongly condemns the suspiciously timed and seemingly retaliatory actions by the Portsmouth Police against Senator Louise Lucas (D-18th, Portsmouth), a VLBC Member and President Pro Tempore of the Virginia State Senate. On June 24, 2020, the VLBC released its Special Session Priorities, with a strong focus on policing reform and holding law enforcement accountable. … Sen. Lucas will patron some of these key measures.

“Yet today the Portsmouth Police Department announced that it was filing charges against Sen. Lucas, a longstanding public servant who has dedicated her life to public service and the people of this Commonwealth. This timely, suspiciously retaliatory attack on the first Black person and Woman to serve as President Pro Tempore of the Virginia State Senate is unacceptable … These attacks will not prosper. To quote Senator Lucas: ‘Not this time.’”