Chapman says she was forced to resign as police chief in Portsmouth

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PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY/AP) — Tonya Chapman says she was forced to resign from her position as police chief in Portsmouth.

Chapman, who was hired in Portsmouth in February 2016, was the first black woman to lead a municipal police force in Virginia. City officials announced Chapman’s resignation last week.

Chapman released a four-page statement early Monday morning calling her departure from the role a forced resignation and (City Manager Dr. L. Pettis Patton) was the conduit.

The statement detailed a series of alleged communications between herself and Patton leading up to the announced resignation. Chapman claimed she received a meeting request from Patton when she was out of town — and received no replay when she inquired about the nature of the meeting.

Chapman said upon her return she confronted Patton, who read from a “scripted document” that said she had lost the confidence of the department before it asked her to resign.

City officials declined to discuss Chapman’s resignation last week, saying it was a personnel issue.

Chapman said in her statement that she tried to change the culture and was often met with resistance from some members of the department.

An email Chapman sent regarding morale within the department that became public in 2018 did not sit well with some officers. In the email, Chapman asked members of the department to “look introspectively as to why you run through so many police chiefs and employees.”

Sgt. Matt Crutcher, president of the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, told 10 On Your Side some officers were offended by the email and felt it was a personal attack.

Chapman said the email was meant to help employees “recognize different personalities” and inspire them to bring a positive attitude to work.

PREVIOUS: Chapman discusses homicide rate with 10 On Your Side

In her statement Monday, Chapman said he was told of an “external strife” between the Portsmouth community and police that stemmed from “officer involved shootings” before she was hired as the city’s chief. 

Chapman said she noticed a strife that included racial tensions within the department after former officer Stephen Rankin was convicted of voluntary manslaughter for the 2015 shooting death of 18-year-old William Chapman II.

Chapman stated Monday she had never seen “the degree of bias and acts of systemic racism, discriminatory practices and abuse of authority” in her 30-year career.

Prior to working in Portsmouth, Chapman held prominent law enforcement positions with the state of Virginia and in places such as Richmond and Arlington.

James Boyd, president of Portsmouth’s NAACP chapter, said last week Chapman is the latest victim of what he said is a systemically racist police force.

Assistant Chief Angela Greene was named interim chief in the wake of Chapman’s departure.

In Chapman’s letter addressed, “To the citizens of Portsmouth,” Chapman wrote, “My resignation was forced … she (The City Manager) read from a scripted document that read in part that I had lost the confidence of my department. I pressed the issue, and she stated if I did not sign the pre-written letter of resignation she would terminate me.”

Former Councilman Mark Whitaker is disappointed with how Pettis Patton handled the termination, and said her actions were egregious.  

“And the truth is she (Tonya Chapman) was forced out of office because the Fraternity Order of Police had an issue with her diversifying the police department and disciplining officers. They expressed that to members of council, and members of council expressed that to Dr. Patton, and she forced Tonya Chapman to resign.”

In her statement, Chapman cited racial tensions and resistance within the department to leadership from an African American woman.

10 On Your Side was there on February 22, 2016, when Chapman was the newly sworn in. 

Chapman was full of hope and promise, but apparently her tenure was with obstacles from the start. 

In the letter she noted how she had discussed the dissension in her department, and how the Fraternal Order of Police was looking to find issues involving loss of confidence with Chapman. 

“I had numerous conversations over the past three years about the actions of certain individuals in my department trying to get a vote of no confidence,” Chapman said.  

In her letter she writes her resignation was, “not tendered under my own volition. This was a forced resignation and our City Manager was the Conduit.”

Whitaker says the resignation was forced by council and the Fraternal Order of Police.

“There was no scientific survey done. This was purely the complaint of a few individuals who have access to the council and executed their desire.”

Chapman continued with her account of her forced resignation, “I continued to press her … I had not been counseled or warned on any issue … she then said if I signed i would receive two months severance pay … after signing the letter under duress, she then stated it was effective immediately.”

There’s been no comment from council members, who’ve been warned not to talk because of possible litigation in the future. 

“Please be aware that regardless of these statements made by the former Chief, the City Council is obligated in accordance with City Charter Sec. 3.11-Noninterference in appointments or removals to refrain from actions that involve the employment of the City Manager’s subordinates … Please take every precaution so that no comment you may make regardless of your best intentions may become part of future litigation.”

Whitaker responded to the fact city council members aren’t talking.

“On this, they should be commenting because this is tragedy, a grievous racist act that has occurred and all of them sat back and allowed this to happen.”

Repeated calls to the Fraternal Order of Police were not returned.  10 On Your Side was told rank and file had issues with Chapman, including staffing, and several open positions that strains staffing.

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