Exclusive: Former Portsmouth police chief speaks to 10 On Your Side

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PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Tonya Chapman is speaking publicly for the first time since her departure from the helm of the Portsmouth Police Department.

The city announced on March 18 Chapman would resign from the department after three years.

In an interview with 10 On Your Side’s Andy Fox, Chapman said she was forced to resign because some well-connected police officers in the department had lost confidence in her.

An audio recording from a Fraternal Order of Police meeting where no confidence on Chapman was discussed, and she speaks out on racism she encountered in the Portsmouth Police Department.

Chapman said “some officers didn’t want to take directions from an African American female.” She detailed what happened when City Manager Dr. Lydia Pettis-Patton forced her to sign a resignation letter or be fired.

PREVIOUS: Chapman says she was forced to resign as police chief

“She said I needed to resign. I said, ‘Dr. Patton what did I do? I have not been counciled about anything, I have not been warned. What is leading up to this? Can you please give me an explanation,'” Chapman said. “(Pettis-Patton) then said she couldn’t say anything more. She then told me, ‘If you don’t sign it, I will have to terminate you.’ And I said, ‘Doc tell me what this is about.'”

In her letter to the citizens of  Portsmouth she emailed out on March 25, Former Chief Chapman writes about the external strife that existed between the police department and the community. She’s “never witnessed the degree of bias and acts of systemic racism, discriminatory practices, and abuse of authority in all of her 30-year career in law enforcement.”

It didn’t take long for newly appointed Portsmouth Police Chief Tonya Chapman to create enemies within the ranks of the thin blue line.

Some officers left, and Chapman thought that was a good thing as she found in the department what she calls “Bias and systemic racism.” 

“Some of them were individuals who did not need to be in the department anymore … why not?” Chapman asked. “They, they were not embracing 21st century policing.”

Chapman says an incident that occurred during former Officer Stephen Rankin’s closing arguments in his killing of an unarmed black man showed the internal racial strife in the police department. 

“One of my white sergeants started ranting and raving and making derogatory comments about the deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney, who happens to be a black male … he then turns on the Archie Bunker Show (All in the Family) and starts singing the Monkees song, “Hey, hey, we’re the Monkees,” that Monkees song. We had over 70 troopers in that room and all of my officers were preparing for what might happen after the trial, so this was very embarrassing for us.”

Chapman points to abuse of authority. An incident involving a burglary suspect who had already been shot, is on the ground, restrained, when a white officer comes up to him, “And the white male officer came up put a gun to his head and said, “If you move, I will shoot your f**king brains out.”

But Chapman blames the most intense efforts to get her removed when she disciplined a sergeant for referring to her chief of staff, who was African American, as a trunk money.

“The Sergeant says don’t take offense to this, but you are a trunk monkey or you are like a trunk money or something to that effect. Well, the lieutenant was highly upset because when is it OK to call a black man a monkey?”

The sergeant, who is no longer with the department, told us he obviously regrets the incident, but says he never meant it in a racial way. 

He says he was referring to a TV commercial where a chimpanzee is in the trunk of a car to handle all issues not found in the owner’s manual.

Likewise he argues, the chief of staff handles all issues. 

Chapman is not buying that explanation.

“I didn’t buy it because of his initial statement, which was don’t take offense because if it wasn’t meant to be offensive then why would you say don’t take offense?”

We also obtained a recording from a May 31, 2018, Fraternal Order of Police meeting that included two other police organizations, including the Minority Police Officers Association.

Former Chief Chapman thinks it is clear from the audio there are attempts to undermine her as chief.  =

Weplayed the audio from the FOP meeting where a retired lieutenant seems to be explaining the “how to” build a no confidence vote against Tonya Chapman. 

You can hear the meeting leader say, “we’ve been through this twice before, and we did it successfully, and the way we did it successfully was we were smart. We outsmarted them.” 

Chapman responds, “We have been successful at this twice before and this is what you need to do in order to be successful, and you need to target her, put her in your sights.” 

“That was very concerning to me,” Chapman said. 

The recording continues, “you identify what they want to address, and why the place is going to hell in a hand basket, and you are losing confidence in her, and it is her you want to put your sights on.” 

Chapman was stunned by that.

“I felt threatened. I felt threatened because of some of the other incidents that I had been made aware of.”

The retired lieutenant leading the meeting can be heard saying, “Are you any better off today than you were two years ago?”

To that Chapman says officers were better off than they were two years ago.

“The officers complained about cars all the time. They got 50 new cars. They got a pay raise between 2 and 10 percent.”

Chapman has turned over examples of systemic racism and discriminatory practices to the FBI for its investigation that Chapman says is ongoing. 

She claims the FBI was scheduled to be at the police department on Wednesday. Portsmouth police emailed us they do not discuss law enforcement meetings or investigations.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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