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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 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 escalated when protestors beheaded four Confederate figures attached to the monument and caused one of the figures to fall on a man, severely injuring 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.

During an Aug. 17 press conference, the chief 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 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.

In a prepared statement released Thursday, 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. It remains unclear whether she received any investigative results from the Virginia State Police investigation, as neither she nor State Police Spokeswoman Sgt. Michelle Anaya were able to be reached by press time on Friday.

“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.”

The department says this seeming 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.

The probable cause summary Portsmouth Police filed in court 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 her office’s press 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.

Patton was likewise unable to be reached by press time to confirm or refute Lucas’s account of the June 10 incident, in which 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 had arrived shortly after police arrested Portsmouth NAACP President James Boyd and Vice President Louie Gibbs for allegedly trespassing on the monument – charges a judge later dismissed on July 30 – and had left 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.