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City Manager: Portsmouth police chief has conflict of interest

Two days after Portsmouth Police Chief Angela Greene announced charges against state Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-18) in connection with damage done to the city’s Confederate monument during a June 10 protest, City Manager Dr. L. Pettis Patton is now saying Greene should have recused herself from the investigation.

According to an email Patton sent to members of Portsmouth’s City Council on Aug. 19, Greene had 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 says she only found out about the charges against Lucas and others while city police officers were in the process of swearing out warrants in the magistrate’s office.

“I was surprised and troubled when I was informed that despite acknowledging a Conflict of Interest, Chief Green and members of the Police Department continued to be engaged without my knowledge,” Patton said. “Proper protocol would dictate that I would have been advised along with the City Attorney of a matter of such significance … I’m sending this email to make the record clear and complete. No decisions on this investigation or any other matters relating to the Confederate monument came to my attention before August 17, 2020.”

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

“It perplexes me that I’ve heard no other communication from any other member of Council or the Mayor on this issue,” Burke said via Facebook. “Portsmouth City Council clearly made a consensus that no action would be taken on arresting citizens of Portsmouth, but now, NO ONE has made any comments, as we have a Chief who has disregarded all of our intentions. I think she has clearly lost the confidence of this Council and the City and should be terminated.”

Burke further criticized Greene for having not intervened when protestors switched from just painting the monument to using tools to try to bring it down — actions which resulted in a piece of the monument falling on a man and severely injuring him.

Several hours prior to this, just before protestors began painting the monument, Lucas had shown up, clad in a bright red head scarf and face mask, and was captured on video saying to Portsmouth officers, “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.”

The video is among those Virginia Beach attorney Tim Anderson published to his YouTube channel as part of an ongoing effort to have Lucas recalled from office. The senator has since filed a defamation lawsuit against Anderson, in which she claims she had been assured by Patton that no one would be arrested for trespassing or for peacefully protesting, and that she had merely asked Greene to call Patton herself to verify this. The senator further claims she never advised the protestors to do anything unlawful and was on site for no longer than approximately 30 minutes, having left around 2:45 p.m. and never returned. It wasn’t until after dark that evening that protestors beheaded four Confederate figures attached to the monument and pulled one down.

Lucas turned herself in to Portsmouth authorities Aug. 18 and was released on a personal recognizance bond. The senator is charged with two felonies — conspiracy and injuring a monument valued in excess of $1,000.  Other Black leaders who attended the protest, among them the president and vice president of Portsmouth’s NAACP and a Portsmouth School Board member, are also facing charges.

Burke described the charges against her mother as a “bogus witch hunt” for scapegoats to blame for the consequences of Chief Greene’s own inaction.

“We all know that paint could be cleaned off of the monument, but it is my understanding that the people who used the hammers and other tools to tear apart the monument were not even from Portsmouth, but rather from an out of town area,” Burke said.

According to Greene’s Aug. 17 press release, her department began its own investigation of the incident following the conclusion of the Virginia State Police’s accident investigation on July 22 and after discussions with Portsmouth’s Commonwealth Attorney’s Office regarding a special grand jury and a special prosecutor did not result in any charges being levied against any of the protestors. Portsmouth Commonwealth Attorney Stephanie Morales, however, claims her office never received complete investigative results from the incident.

The press release states Greene herself had asked the State Police to investigate, but it remains unclear whether this request had anything to do with Greene’s alleged conflict of interest.

Portsmouth City Attorney Solomon H. Ashby Jr., who according to Patton’s email also knew of Greene’s conflict, was unable to be reached for comment. Assistant City Attorney Burke Stromberg informed the paper that Ashby would be out of his office on Thursday, and said he could not comment in Ashby’s place as he was not involved in the matter.

Victoria Varnedoe, a spokeswoman for the Portsmouth Police Department, was unable to be reached by email or phone by press time Thursday.