Police Chief Who Backed Charges Against Lawmaker During Protests Is Fired

November 18, 2020 

The police chief in Portsmouth, Va., was fired on Monday, the same day that criminal charges she had supported against 19 people — including a state senator — for damaging a Confederate monument during a June protest were dropped.

The former chief, Angela Greene, told an NBC affiliate that she had been fired by the city’s interim manager. Ms. Greene’s termination was confirmed by a city spokeswoman, Dana Woodson, who declined further comment on the matter. Ms. Greene, 46, joined the department in August 2016 and became chief in June 2019.

The charges that the Police Department filed against the 19 people stemmed from a June 10 episode in which protesters vandalized a Confederate monument at the corner of Court and High Streets in downtown Portsmouth, a community of 94,000 across the Elizabeth River from Norfolk, and home to several major U.S. Navy facilities. Police officers intervened only when one of the protesters was injured hours later, according to court documents.

In August, a Portsmouth police officer, Sgt. Kevin McGee, filed felony charges against the 19 people, including State Senator L. Louise Lucas and leaders of the Portsmouth N.A.A.C.P., related to damage protesters had caused to the monument.

On Monday, a judge granted a request by the Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office to dismiss all charges against the defendants. The commonwealth’s attorney, Stephanie Morales, noted in the request that inaction by the police during the June 10 episode most likely led protesters to believe that the monument had effectively been abandoned by the city and that protesters acted with a reasonable belief that city law enforcement officials had given implicit endorsement to their actions.

Ms. Morales also noted that it was unclear whether the monument was owned by the City of Portsmouth or by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Messages left with the Sons of Confederate Veterans on Tuesday were not immediately returned.

“There is no proper evidence that the alleged actions of those charged in the instant cases rise to the level of felony destruction of property or conspiracy,” Ms. Morales’s dismissal request said. It noted that the police had not been able to determine the cost of damage to the monument.

Asked about the dismissal of the charges, a spokeswoman for the Portsmouth Police Department said, “We fully respect the judicial process.”

In a statement, Senator Lucas, who was among those charged with felony destruction of property and conspiracy, said, “The Portsmouth Police Department made a mockery of the criminal justice system by filing obscure felony charges against me and other Portsmouth citizens and in so doing, they created a scandalous national embarrassment for our city.”

“They operated in secrecy from the city manager and city attorney and made multiple errors in their ill fated efforts to criminalize the justice system against us,” she added.

The June 10 episode was part of a wave of protests nationwide against the continued presence of Confederate monuments in public spaces. The actions came after the May 25 death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed by the police in Minneapolis.

The Portsmouth Confederate monument, a granite obelisk just over 35 feet tall surrounded by four statues representing the Confederate artillery, infantry, navy and cavalry, was removed in late August — just after charges were brought against the protesters. Its current location was unclear.

In an interview, Ms. Morales said she was surprised to see the charges filed. Having individual police officers filing such charges independently of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office after such an extended period of time was highly unusual, she said.

“Certain officers may have wanted me removed as prosecutor on these cases, because of my work and advocacy for police accountability and restorative justice,” Ms. Morales said.

The unusual conduct of the Police Department continued, she said, when her office received a memo Chief Greene had written Aug. 24 from which Ms. Morales concluded that the protesters themselves thought they were not acting with criminal intent.

Chief Greene continued to support the prosecution and held a news conference defending the felony charges, with Sergeant McGee standing behind her, according to Ms. Morales.

“The very clear statement that she made that protesters did not believe they were acting with criminal intent is in direct contradiction with sanctioning criminal charges against those very same protesters,” Ms. Morales added.

Efforts to reach Sergeant McGee through the Police Department on Tuesday were not immediately successful.

Thomas K. Plofchan Jr., a lawyer representing Ms. Greene, said in an interview on Tuesday that his client had done her job at the highest level of competence on June 10, but was placed on administrative leave in early September as retaliation for the felony charges being filed. Mr. Plofchan said Ms. Greene was still trying to resolve any issues the city might have had with her and retain her job, but was instead fired at 8:30 a.m. Monday.

“When Ms. Greene asked why she was terminated, she was told they didn’t have to give a reason because she was an at-will employee,” Mr. Plofchan said. “We have a highly educated African-American police chief who was doing her job, and politics is getting in the way.”

Mr. Plofchan also pushed back on the idea that it was unusual for a police officer to file felony charges directly with a magistrate for property crimes and not consult with the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office beforehand, saying it was a routine practice.

Ms. Greene, he said, was “singled out and made to be the scapegoat in this situation.”

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