The city manager of Portsmouth, Virginia, ousted the city’s police chief on Friday, weeks after the chief announced highly unusual felony charges against a sitting state senator, local civil rights leaders and city public defenders in connection with the destruction of a Confederate monument.
Portsmouth Police Chief Angela Greene allowed Sergeant Kevin McGee to bring the felony charges against Virginia Sen. Louise Lucas (D), NAACP officials, and others under a 70-year-old state law that allows for felony charges involving “injury to” Confederate monuments. She did so despite the fact that she had referred McGee to internal affairs after he wrote a vitriolic letter criticizing Lucas and several of the other defendants he’d later charge.
A group of protesters beheaded four statues on the city’s Confederate monument back in June, but many of the defendants charged with felonies had left the scene of the protest long before most of the destruction took place. One of the statues fell on a protester, seriously injuring him.
Greene has been removed from her position and placed on leave, according to The Virginian-Pilot. WAVY, a local television station, reported that Greene was facing an internal investigation and was placed on administrative leave for 30 days. The Portsmouth Police Department refused to say where the investigation into McGee stands.
Greene had replaced former Portsmouth Police Chief Tonya Chapman, who was Virginia’s first Black female police chief and was pushed out last year. After her forced departure, Chapman said that she’d never encountered the degree of racial bias that she saw in Portsmouth. Greene is also Black, but has gathered the support of a largely white group of Portsmouth residents, particularly after she announced that charges against Lucas and other local Black leaders. Sources who know McGee told HuffPost that he was one of Chapman’s most prominent detractors, and pushed his local Fraternal Order of Police to take a vote of no confidence in her.
Greene’s ouster happened the same day the majority of the defendants and their lawyers appeared in court for the first time. Portsmouth General District Judge Morton Whitlow announced that Virginia’s state Supreme Court would assign a special judge from outside of Portsmouth to hear the cases, according to The Virginian-Pilot. Another hearing is set for Sept. 17.
A total of 19 defendants have been charged. Some allegedly participated in the most serious destruction. But in Lucas’ case, McGee never alleged that she took part. Rather, under his own amateur legal theory, McGee alleged that Lucas’ rhetoric made her a part of a broad criminal conspiracy.
McGee had also attempted to sideline the city’s elected prosecutor, Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales, by naming her as a suspect in the case, despite the fact that she wasn’t on the scene. Morales’ lawyer fought back in a motion this week, saying that Morales was “a constitutional officer charged with representing the Commonwealth in criminal prosecutions in the City of Portsmouth” and that she would “fulfill her professional duties.” The motion said McGee was acting in bad faith and that Morales ― “and not a police sergeant under investigation” ― would determine for herself whether she had a conflict of interest with the case.
Lucas’ daughter Lisa Lucas-Burke, who serves as Portsmouth’s vice mayor, is facing misdemeanor charges after a Portsmouth resident alleged that her calls for Greene’s dismissal violated an obscure city statute. Virginia’s magistrate system, which allowed McGee to obtain felony warrants without the approval of an actual prosecutor, also allows citizens to bring charges against officials in some cases.
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