PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Portsmouth officials say there will be a state police investigation into the events Wednesday night that destroyed a 127-year-old Confederate monument on Court Street and left a man seriously injured.
However, the council appears to be poised to await the completion of that investigation and an internal situational investigation before taking further significant action in response to Wednesday night’s events.
The probe will focus on why officers were possibly told to stand down — a detail the police chief denies — as well as if there was any outside influence on the decision to allow vandalism to occur.
Portsmouth City Council held an emergency meeting Thursday evening to discuss the destructive protest at the Confederate monument the previous night.
Protesters had been demonstrating at the monument much of the day Wednesday. Two Portsmouth NAACP chapter leaders were also arrested for trespassing. In the midst of those demonstrations, City Council also convened around 5 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the monument’s future, at which time they scheduled a public hearing on the relocation of the monument for July 28 — a required step of the process under state law.
Less than three hours after City Council decided to move forward with the process of relocation — which could take at least 60 days, according to the city attorney — protesters began dismantling pieces of the monument themselves, splashing it with paint and decapitating the soldier statues.
The event came to a halt and protesters had mostly dispersed by 11 p.m. after Chris Green, 45, of Portsmouth, was hit and critically injured by one of the soldier statues as it was pulled down. On Friday morning, a State Police spokesperson said Green was in currently in stable condition.
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Questions over what happened
During Thursday’s meeting, City Manager Dr. Lydia Pettis-Patton said Virginia State Police are reviewing and investigating the series of events that led up to the man being injured Wednesday night.
Still, there was some debate or confusion between council members as to what exactly happened.
Councilman Bill Moody suggested state Sen. Louise Lucas was on scene Wednesday afternoon directing police to allow the destruction of the monument. Moody also suggested Vice Mayor Lisa Lucas-Burke and Councilman Shannon Glover were on scene and were complicit in the violence or vandalism.
Lucas-Burke said it was incorrect to suggest the senator directed the police to allow the vandalism. Both Lucas-Burke and Glover denied they were there to encourage vandalism, instead saying they were there to try to de-escalate the situation.
Wednesday night after the protest, Portsmouth Police Chief Angela Greene also said she never gave her officers an order to ignore the destruction of the monument. Instead, she said an elected official directed the officers to let protesters vandalism the structure.
When Councilwoman Elizabeth Psimas asked Thursday why the vandalism wasn’t stopped, City Attorney Solomon Ashby didn’t have a clear answer.
“If we stop someone from standing inside the fence, why did we not stop the vandalism or spray paint … that afternoon?” Psimas asked.
Moody said Thursday he specifically wanted state police to look into Lucas’ involvement with Portsmouth Police during the protest. He also wanted to know whether the city gave mixed signals as far as whether protesters were allowed to be within the fence at the monument or not.
“[We’re] asking for a state investigation and staff discussed a post-action report,” Ashby said. “I believe that would give you the timeline and decision points in that process.”
Pettis-Patton said she would not provide direction on what state police and the internal investigation look into because the investigation is supposed to be impartial.
As soon as the reports are complete, they will be presented to council.
Calls for police chief’s firing
Wednesday’s events also led to Lucas, the senator, calling for the immediate firing of the police chief.
Lucas told 10 On Your Side that she believes the police chief “abdicated her responsibility to maintain peace and failed to uphold the law” during the protests after demonstrators began to vandalize and destroy the monument.
She defended her actions at the monument that afternoon saying she was deescalating the situation following the arrest of the NAACP members.
“All I said to the chief of police is the two NAACP chapter leaders James Boyd and Louie Gibbs are not going to be re-arrested,” Lucas said. “I said to the protesters this is city property you are able to protest here if you want.”
- RELATED: Sen. Lucas calls for immediate firing of Portsmouth police chief following protest at Confederate monument
Meanwhile, Portsmouth Mayor John Rowe defended the decision of police officers to not intervene Wednesday night.
“Our police department made the right choice – confine the vandalism to this one piece of public property so as to protect the remaining private property and lives,” Rowe said in an official statement Thursday afternoon.
- RELATED: ‘Monuments can be replaced – lives cannot’: Portsmouth mayor defends police department’s decision not to intervene during protest
Safety at the monument
Pettis-Patton said Thursday she had already formulated a plan to erect a 10-foot fence around the monument in an effort to keep the public safe — a directive council gave Wednesday.
Work on that fence can start as soon as Tuesday and be done by Thursday.
Olde Town businesses have also been informed of the plans for the fence.
Moody said he was concerned a lawsuit against the city could be filed in connection with the injuries Chris Green, the protester who was hit by the falling statue, suffered.
Pettis-Patton said she was working on a plan for policing in downtown moving forward and would have details on that in the near future.
As far as arrests, the Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office said Thursday it has been in communication with legal counsel for the community members who were charged.
The office has also said Wednesday it did not plan to prosecute charges against the two NAACP chapter leaders who were arrested for trespassing.
Here’s the commonwealth’s attorney’s office full statement to 10 On Your Side:
“The Portsmouth Commonwealth Attorney’s Office gave no direction or instruction to any police agency regarding enforcement of the law pertaining to destruction of property. This office will not opine belatedly to provide cover for any agencies or individuals for their actions or lack thereof. We will address any matters as they come and ensure that our actions are equitable and procedurally just.
Procedurally, our office does not contain an intake unit. Warrants are obtained when complaining witnesses, including law enforcement, render probable cause to a magistrate who may issue a charging instrument. This office does not take part in this process. This office makes prosecutorial determination when indictments are requested upon receipt of complete investigative results. Our office has received no such results nor has it initiated any independent investigations.
Our office has been in communication with legal counsel for our community members who were charged and to ensure there is fairness of process we will refrain from making any extrajudicial statements. We must note that the matters will proceed through an open court process which members of the public and the media are able attend.”
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