PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Trespassing charges filed against two leaders of the Portsmouth NAACP during a protest at the city’s Confederate monument in June were dismissed by a judge on Thursday.
Portsmouth NAACP President James Boyd and Vice President Louie Gibbs appeared in the city’s General District Court with their attorney, Del. Don Scott, for an adjudicatory hearing on the charges, which were filed against them during a peaceful demonstration at the monument on June 10. The goal of the demonstration was to encourage the city to remove the Confederate monument, which has been a topic of heated discussion in Portsmouth since 2017.
Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney CaShea Coleman asked a Portsmouth General District Court judge to nolle prosse the trespassing charges, which means that they would be dropped but could be brought back against the men if more evidence surfaced. Scott objected to the nolle prosse, asking the judge to dismiss the charges altogether. The judge agreed with Scott and dismissed the charges, saying that Coleman did not present any evidence against the men during the hearing.
Coleman sent 10 On Your Side this statement after the hearing:
“[Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales] was immediately committed to ensuring that no peaceful protesters were jailed and incarcerated while our office waited to examine the evidence presented to determine whether the elements of the instant charges were met, especially at a time where our legal community has worked tirelessly to decrease the exposure to COVID19 in the jail. In the instant cases, the evidence provided showed that the elements of the charges were not met, resulting in a motion not to proceed by this office and ultimate dismissal by the court on motion of the defense. Additionally, it is imperative for the community to know that only the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office speaks for itself. At a time when several different statements had been made to peaceful protesters and attendees and varying levels of action or inaction was taken by parties at different levels of government, this office was not on scene to engage in the dialogue and had no desire to have any threats of prosecution or any other statements attributed to it by parties who do not speak for the office.”
10 On Your Side spoke with Boyd and Gibbs after the hearing. Gibbs called their arrest “unnecessary bullying.”
“We were falsely arrested. It was for no reason. It was boisterous posturing and bullying tactics that have been used for years against people of color,” Gibbs said.
Boyd said their arrest was part of a pattern of city leadership taking “extraordinary steps” and “abusing power” to make a statement. Boyd said he and Gibbs intend to sue the city for false imprisonment.
“We were exercising our rights, exercising our First Amendment rights, and for them to do that, lock us in cuffs, take us downtown, shackle us downtown, all behind making some type of statement, that’s false imprisonment. We’re not going to allow that to stand. We intend to sue the city for that,” Boyd continued.
Boyd and Gibbs confirmed that prior to the demonstration Portsmouth Police Chief Angela Greene and City Attorney Solomon Ashby gave them their blessing to protest at the monument and inside of the gates that surround it. The men were demonstrating at the monument for several hours before Portsmouth police asked them to leave just before noon. Boyd and Gibbs refused to leave and asked to speak with a police supervisor before they were handcuffed, led away from the demonstration, and taken to the city jail. They were released from police custody about an hour later.
“Not even six hours before we were arrested we were told by the chief of police by order of the city attorney that we were allowed to be in that space, in the fence around the monument,” Boyd said. “Then a couple of hours later, now it’s an arrest-able charge.”
Gibbs said they had also seen City Manager Dr. Lydia Pettis Patton earlier in the day, prior to their arrest, and she questioned why their signs had been moved from the monument.
“It was obvious permission,” Gibbs said.
The protest had been peaceful prior to Boyd and Gibbs’ arrests, and the monument hadn’t been damaged; however, the demonstration became destructive later in the afternoon. The statue was defaced and the Confederate soldiers on it were beheaded. Protesters tried to remove one of the Confederate soldier statues from the monument, and it fell on top of a demonstrator named Chris Green. He was seriously injured.
Police did not intervene in the dismantling of the Portsmouth Confederate monument until after Green was injured. 10 On Your Side asked Greene why officers didn’t intervene, and she said an elected official directed officers to let the protesters vandalize the structure. Greene wouldn’t identify who that elected official was, but during a Portsmouth City Council meeting on June 11 Councilman Bill Moody and Vice Mayor Lisa Lucas-Burke both addressed the chief’s statement and community buzz that state Sen. Louise Lucas directed police not to intervene.
Lucas told 10 On Your Side that she did to go the monument on June 10 after Boyd and Gibbs were arrested. She said she spoke with police officers and told them that peaceful protesters cannot be arrested at the monument, which she said was city-owned property.
She said she never told police to ignore vandalism or property destruction; however, 10 On Your Side obtained copies of police body camera video from the time when she first arrived on scene and in them she could be heard telling police that police protesters were going to paint the statue.
“I’m Senator Louise Lucas,” she said to officers. “I know I’m in disguise, but they are going to put some paint on this thing. You can not arrest them. You need to call Dr. Patton, because they are going to do it. You can’t stop them. This is city property.”
Following the destruction of the monument, local attorney Tim Anderson crated a petition for Lucas’ recall, telling 10 On Your Side that Lucas told police to stand down during the protest. Lucas has filed a $20.7 million defamation lawsuit against Anderson after his recall efforts.
On Tuesday, Portsmouth City Council unanimously voted to relocate the monument. City Manager Dr. Lydia Pettis-Patton is in charge of arranging for it to be removed and put into storage.
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