Update (November 16, 2020): A judge ruled on Monday to dismiss charges against Virginia State Sen. Louise Lucas and a group of Black activists identified collectively as the “Portsmouth 19” who were charged in connection to a protest in June for allegedly vandalizing a Confederate monument.
With the help of the city’s top prosecutor Stephanie Morales, who determined there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the group of activists committed a crime after reviewing the police data, Judge Claire Cardwell revealed that police tried to circumvent the system by going around the prosecutors to file charges. Cardwell also said police tried to prohibit Morales from being involved in the case by attempting to subpoena her as a witness, according to The Virginian-Pilot.
According to The Virginian-Pilot, Cardwell dismissed the charges with prejudice, meaning the case can't be brought back into court.
As Blavity previously
reported, police said they had a video of Lucas urging protestors to deface the monument. In the video obtained by the police, Lucas is heard telling officers they can't arrest protesters for painting the Portsmouth Confederate monument. Later that evening, after Lucas had left the demonstration, protestors pulled down part of the monument and a piece fell, injuring a 46-year-old man.
Cardwell, a regional judge assigned to the case after Portsmouth judges recused themselves, said the developments of the matter are “of concern” to her and raises questions about what might be motivating the police’s intention to pursue the case.
The Washington Post reported that several lawmakers and community organizers alike contend that the charges against Lucas and the activists were racist and designed to be retribution for her police reform work.
“It’s deeply troubling that on the verge of Virginia passing long-overdue police reform, the first Black woman to serve as our Senate Pro Tempore is suddenly facing highly unusual charges,” Gov. Ralph Northam said.
Lucas' attorney told The Washington Post that the charges were “a political stunt meant to weaponize the criminal justice system against” Black people.
“This gives people in the community hope that when they come to these courtrooms that they will be treated in a fair and just manner, even though you may have a rogue police department who intends to criminalize the justice system against people like me. This gives people hope,” Lucas said.
During the special session on Monday, a bill was passed by the General Assembly that gives the attorney general authority to conduct an investigation into the practices of law enforcement agencies. After the hearing on Monday, Lucas and her attorney said they were hopeful the Virginia attorney general would investigate the Portsmouth Police Department.
In the aftermath of Monday’s proceedings, Portsmouth Police Chief Angela Greene, who first announced the charges against the activists in August, was fired after being placed on leave by former City Manager Lydia Pettis Patton, The Virginian-Pilot reports. Patton resigned from her position in September following pressure from the city council to step down.
Original (August 18, 2020): Portsmouth Police Chief Angela Greene announced that felony charges would be filed against Virginia State Sen. Louise Lucas, local NAACP members and others following a June 10 protest at a Confederate monument, according to WTKR.
Lucas and others are facing two charges: conspiracy to commit a felony and injury to a monument causing more than $1,000 in damage.
According to The Washington Post, the governor of Virginia and local lawmakers, the charges are being seen as retribution for Lucas' work on police reform in her position as Senate president pro tempore.
Lucas' attorney told The Post that the charges were “a political stunt meant to weaponize the criminal justice system against African Americans.” Another state senator said it was the "same playbook from the ’60s.”
“It’s deeply troubling that on the verge of Virginia passing long-overdue police reform, the first Black woman to serve as our Senate Pro Tempore is suddenly facing highly unusual charges. @SenLouiseLucas, I look forward to seeing you in Richmond tomorrow — so we can get to work,” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam tweeted.
It's deeply troubling that on the verge of Virginia passing long-overdue police reform, the first Black woman to serve as our Senate Pro Tempore is suddenly facing highly unusual charges.@SenLouiseLucas, I look forward to seeing you in Richmond tomorrow—so we can get to work. https://t.co/flI9W5HnYH
— Ralph Northam (@GovernorVA) August 17, 2020
According to Fox News, Portsmouth Commonwealth's Attorney Stephanie Morales said her office did not sign off on the police department's charges.
The charges stem from a situation revolving around Portsmouth's only Confederate monument. The monument became the center of protests related to the killing of George Floyd and others in June, and police said they have a video of Lucas urging protesters to paint the monument.
Statues on the Portsmouth Confederate monument are beheaded and partially pulled down by protesters in Portsmouth, Va., on Wednesday, June 11, 2020.
— Kristen Zeis (@k_zeis) June 11, 2020
According to the police video, Lucas can be heard telling police not to stop protesters from painting the monument.
“They’re going to put some paint on this thing and y’all cannot arrest them. You need to call Dr. Patton because they’re going to do it. You can’t stop them. This is city property, all right. They got a right to go ahead. I’m not telling them to do anything. I’m telling you, you can’t arrest them. Call Dr. Patton,” Lucas said, referencing Portsmouth City Manager Lydia Pettis Patton.
Later in the evening, long after Lucas had left, part of the monument was pulled down and fell on a 46-year-old man, who was seriously injured, according to The Virginian-Pilot.
“She left at 1 o’clock and riots began at 9 in the evening. I just don’t know how you incite a riot eight hours after you left the place. There’s something that just does not make any sense,” Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw said.
A month after the protest, the Portsmouth City Council voted to remove the statue altogether, reports The Post. More than 10 other people have been charged in connection to the destruction of the monument.
Supporters of Lucas have come out to condemn the charges, including former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.
— Terry McAuliffe (@TerryMcAuliffe) August 17, 2020
According to The Virginian-Pilot, Greene said that in addition to Lucas, police filed felony injury to a monument and conspiracy charges against NAACP President James Boyd and Vice President Louie Gibbs, school board member LaKeesha Atkinson and four others.
Both charges carry five-year sentences.
Lucas' lawyer, Don Scott Jr., criticized Greene for being “co-opted by hostile forces … trying to take down Black leadership.”
“I feel sad that the chief has allowed her department to be used in this way,” Scott said about Greene, who is Black.
Greene focused much of her press conference on the man who was injured while the statue was being torn down and implied that the injury was why charges were filed.
Other politicians have spoken out about the charges.
I’ve known & admired @SenLouiseLucas for over 40 yrs as a dedicated & fierce fighter for the rights & interests of her constituents & her community. We have worked side-by-side for change & progress for all Virginians. She has my respect, my gratitude, my confidence & my support. https://t.co/pBHxMM5ZYN
— Bobby Scott (@BobbyScott4VA3) August 17, 2020
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus ripped the charges in a statement posted to Twitter.
The VLBC strongly condemns the suspiciously timed and seemingly retaliatory actions by the Portsmouth Police against Senate President Pro Tempore @SenLouiseLucas.
Full statement below: pic.twitter.com/3wKYnzL2nR
— VLBC (@VaBlackCaucus) August 17, 2020
“They’re pulling these old political tricks and stunts that they’ve done before but not this time. It will not work this time. … She will do the things that she needs to do to fight these charges and clear her name. She is 100% innocent. She will be 100% vindicated and these people again will look like the fools that they are,” Scott said during a rally this week.