PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – 10 On Your Side’s investigative team has learned that former Portsmouth City Manager Angel Jones is filing a $5.35 million lawsuit against the city for wrongful termination.
Jones was fired in May during a contentious city council meeting. She served in the position for just over a year.
Specifically, the lawsuit accuses Vice Mayor De’Andre Barnes and city councilmembers Paul Battle and Christopher Woodard of accepting bribes to support specific candidates for the city manager position.
Barnes is also accused of soliciting a bribe from a professional basketball player in exchange for basketball court improvements and a donation from a developer in exchange for support of a project on Greenwood Drive, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit also alleges that Barnes demanded for more American Rescue Plan funds to be allocated to nonprofits with the Portsmouth Parks and Recreation department, but didn’t disclose that his own organization would benefit from that plan.
Barnes called the allegations a “book of fairytales” and denied all wrongdoing. Barnes said he has no plans to resign from office.
10 On Your Side’s Andy Fox attempted to reach Battle and Woodard, but didn’t receive comment before publication.
The lawsuit alleges that Jones was pressured by city officials to retain former Deputy City Manager Lavoris Pace after he was offered a higher-paying job in Norfolk. Pace was already at the top of the pay scale in Portsmouth, so Jones could not increase his pay to match Norfolk’s $200,000 offer. The lawsuit alleges that Battle pressured Jones to bring the issue of raising Pace’s salary before City Council, but she declined.
Councilman Mark Whitaker allegedly called a private meeting with Jones at his church and “chastised” her for allowing Pace to leave Portsmouth. When Jones explained that the city could not raise Pace’s pay, Whitaker allegedly told her “this type of thing” had been done before in Portsmouth, the lawsuit alleges.
In a statement released to Andy Fox, Whitaker said, “In my 20 years of serving as an elected official in the city of Portsmouth, I have never been, nor will be, involved in any public corruption. Therefore, I welcome any racially balanced public corruption investigation. Please contact the city attorney, Lavonda Graham-Williams, for any comments on this matter.”
After these interactions, the lawsuit claims that Jones was publicly criticized by Whitaker, Barnes, and Battle.
The lawsuit alleges that Battle and Barnes also pressured Jones to appoint someone other than Renado Prince as city police chief in October 2021. Battle is accused of telling Jones to fire Prince and appoint Portsmouth Undersheriff Marvin Waters to the position of police chief. She declined to fire Prince; however, the former police chief was ousted by his predecessor – and new city manager – Tonya Chapman in July 2022.
Portsmouth City Council appointed Chapman as Jones’ replacement in June. The new role came three years after Chapman left her job as Portsmouth police chief amid allegations she made that there was racism within the department.
The lawsuit also alleges that Barnes, Battle, Whitaker, and Woodard were the driving force behind Herman Smith III’s consideration for Portsmouth city attorney, although other councilmembers believed he was unqualified. Smith represented Barnes in a number of civil proceedings regarding child support.
Battle tried to delay the vote on Smith in December 2021, upsetting Barnes, Whitaker, and Woodard. Battle allegedly told Jones that if Smith were appointed, he agreed to settle a $5.3 million lawsuit filed against Portsmouth by Whitaker and that some of the money would be shared with Barnes and Woodard, the lawsuit alleges.
In the lawsuit, Jones claims to have reported bribes and corruption to the Portsmouth Police Department, Virginia State Police and the FBI.