PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Charges were dismissed Monday morning against state Sen. Louise Lucas and other local Black leaders in connection with the Confederate monument incident in Portsmouth.
After a brief hearing, Lucas responded to a tweet of support from former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe who called the case “political persecution.”
“The persecution is over and we are grateful that law and justice prevailed today. This gives people in the community hope that when they come to these courtrooms that they will be treated in a fair and just manner. Even though you may have a rogue police department that intends to criminalize the justice department against people like me — rogue police officers, I repeat it, rogue police officers — who made a mockery of the justice system by bringing these bogus charges against us in the first place,” said Lucas.
Lucas and several others faced two felony charges in the case, conspiracy to commit a felony and injury to a monument in excess of $1,000.
The decision came moments after Portsmouth fired its police chief, who had charged Lucas and the others in the case.
In August, Chief Angela Greene announced the charges against Lucas and 13 others. Five more people were charged later, as well.
All charges against the “Portsmouth 19” were dismissed Monday.
Richmond-based Judge Claire Cardwell issued a scathing rebuke ruling police failed to prove their case and the attempt to prosecute the Portsmouth 19 raised the prospect that something other than law enforcement and public safety was behind the prosecution.
Portsmouth’s monument was damaged during a protest back in June and a man was seriously hurt during the demonstration when part of the statue was pulled down on his head.
Police had labeled Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales as a witness, which would not have allowed her to prosecute the case. However last month, a Richmond-based judge ruled there was no reason to call the prosecutor as a witness. In Monday’s hearing, Judge Cardwell said the effort to call Morales as a witness was an attempted “end run” on the city’s top prosecutor.
The commonwealth’s motion to dismiss, states, in part:
“Based on video evidence, numerous accounts of the alleged incident, and the unwillingness of the Portsmouth Police Department to intervene against the protestors, a reasonable and colorable argument exists that the charged individuals in the instant cases did not act with the requisite criminal intent to destroy valuable property. Rather, based on the fact that on-scene law-enforcement officers failed to intervene during the defacing of the monument up until hours after the monument was defaced, it is likely that the charged individuals, understood the monument to be effectually abandoned by the City of Portsmouth, and thereby acted under the reasonable belief that city law enforcement officials had given their implicit endorsement to the same effect.”
The document includes letters between Morales and Greene and Portsmouth Sgt. Kevin McGee.
Monday afternoon, Morales’ office released a statement and additional information on her office’s role in the case.
The office said “An essential element of all crimes charged is intent.” Morales released a piece of a letter from the chief of police, which reads:
“I advised my officers on scene of same and proceeded back to my office as I could not take any legal action without a victim. If the property holders, city leaders determined that citizens could damage same, then I don’t have a crime…Therefore I had no other alternative but to await confirmation or denial from city leaders in order to prevent a false arrest or incite the crowd, who were told they could damage the property by an elected official, so citizen assumed they were acting without criminal intent.”
Morales added that there had been no documentation or assessment to prove that the damage at the monument was greater than $1,000 until Oct. 8. The commonwealth’s attorney’s office would need to be able to prove value to prosecute those charges.
“Without criminal intent and the requisite value requirement, the Commonwealth could not ethically proceed with the charges against the named individuals,” the office wrote in a news release Monday.
Lucas, three officers of Portsmouth NAACP, attorneys from the public defenders officer, a member of the school board and a public relations specialist are among the Portsmouth 19. James Boyd, president of the Portsmouth NAACP said bringing down the symbol of racism and slavery — the Confederate monument — was a critical component in healing race relations but more heavy lifting remains in removing the instruments of racism.
“That was one symbol of oppression and slavery that came down, but there are several others in our education system. There are several others in our economic system, and there are several others in every other system in our city. We are still pursuing that justice and we will not stop,” said Boyd.
In August, Lucas said she would be vindicated.
Several local lawmakers issued statements in support of Lucas after Monday’s ruling was handed down.
Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe,calling the case a “political persecution.”
Del. Jay Jones said it was “the absolute right call.”
And Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax stated, “The false and improper charges in Portsmouth against Sen. Louise Lucas have finally been dismissed. The fight for justice and fairness is often difficult but always worthwhile.”