Police chief denies ‘conflict’ in Lucas investigation
Portsmouth Police Chief Angela Greene has shed some light on allegations of her department having a conflict of interest in the investigation that led to charges being filed against state Sen. L. Louise Lucas.
The senator, who’s 18th District includes parts of Franklin, Suffolk and the counties of Isle of Wight, Southampton and Surry, is charged with two felonies — conspiracy and “injuring” the city’s Confederate monument. Both are in connection with her presence during a June 10 protest, which later resulted in a man being seriously injured when protestors beheaded four Confederate figures attached to the monument and caused one of the figures to fall on him.
The allegations of a conflict of interest on the department’s part come from an email Portsmouth City Manager Dr. L. Pettis Patton sent to City Council members on Aug. 19, in which she claimed Greene had reported a conflict of interest on her part as it related to any investigation of incidents connected with 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.”
Portsmouth Vice Mayor Lisa Lucas-Burke, who is Sen. Lucas’ daughter, made the email public via Facebook on Aug. 19.
When Greene announced the charges on Aug. 17 against Lucas and others who had attended the protest, she said 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 a discussion with Portsmouth’s Commonwealth Attorney’s Office regarding a special grand jury and a special prosecutor “did not yield any action.” Sgt. Michelle Anaya, a spokeswoman for the State Police, however, has denied her agency completed its investigation.
“The incident remains an open investigation,” Anaya told the newspaper on Aug. 23. “No charges have been filed or arrests made.”
In a prepared statement released Aug. 20, the chief confirmed that her reason for asking the Virginia 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.
“After all efforts were exhausted to have a special grand jury appointed or an outside agency investigate the matter, 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.”
Portsmouth Commonwealth Attorney Stephanie Morales, however, claimed in an Aug. 18 press release that 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.
“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. “The Portsmouth Police Department chose their traditional process of securing warrants, albeit over two months after the alleged events, in lieu of submitting complete investigative results to this office.”
Instead, the department chose its other option for securing arrest warrants, this being sending an officer to appear before a judge. In this case, 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 — well before his department began its investigation. The existence of the email was first reported Aug. 20 in the Huffington Post, with the Pilot obtaining a copy later that day. The Tidewater News, 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 Portsmouth School Board member Lakeesha Atkinson, Portsmouth NAACP President James Boyd and Vice President Louie Gibbs were in possession of cans of spray paint during the protest.
According to Lucas’s 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 arrived shortly 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, and Lucas claims to have left the scene by around 2:45 p.m., well before protestors began trying to dismantle the monument.
Lucas had been captured on video that afternoon 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.”
When asked whether officers had ever checked with Patton as Lucas had requested, Victoria Varnedoe, a spokeswoman for the department, declined to answer any further questions concerning the incident.
McGee’s statement of facts then 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.
[Note: This version is an update from what was first posted on Aug. 21.]