PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The Portsmouth police chief is defending her involvement in the investigation of the June 10 protest at the Confederate monument following allegations that she said she had a conflict of interest.
Chief Angela Greene announced charges against 14 high-profile community members — including state Sen. L. Louise Lucas, local NAACP leaders and others — Monday in connection with the protest, which left a man severely injured and a historic monument extensively damaged.
The charges sparked backlash from political activists, who on Wednesday called for the immediate resignation or firing of the police chief.
Now, Greene is defending her department’s decision to take out charges — and is denying there was any actual conflict of interest preventing her from being involved in the case, contrary to an email sent Monday by City Manager Dr. Lydia Pettis Patton.
Conflict of interest
The day following the destructive demonstration, Portsmouth City Council met in a virtual emergency meeting and several members demanded an independent Virginia State Police investigation to find out exactly what happened — more specifically why officers didn’t move in to stop vandalism when it began.
Patton explained state police would be investigating the series of events that led up to the man being injured Wednesday night and that city police would look into their actions surrounding the situation.
“In a situational investigation, which is an internal investigation, and the state police investigation that is going on, I as city manager will not be giving them directions as to what it is they are to do, not to do or to look at,” Patton said during the meeting.
The results of both investigations have not been released, although Chief Greene state police concluded their investigation into the accident on July 22.
However, Monday it became clear the city police department wasn’t limiting their efforts to just an internal probe.
In a statement released Thursday afternoon, Greene said she attempted to have outside agencies conduct an investigation into the June 10 protest to avoid any conflicts of interest. Greene said there were “potential conflicts” initially because of the involvement of elected officials, which is why she asked outside agencies to investigate.
However, when those efforts came up short Greene said the responsibility fell on the Portsmouth Police Department to ensure a “comprehensive investigation” was done. The chief said all efforts “were exhausted” to have a special grand jury appointed or an outside agency investigate.
The Portsmouth Police investigation “determined that although felonious acts were committed by several individuals, no conflicts of interest for this department were revealed,” Greene said in the statement.
Some members of the political activist group calling for Greene’s firing or resignation are saying the police failed to do their jobs.
In addition, the police sergeant who eventually took out the warrants against the 14 involved, Kevin McGee, wrote an email to Portsmouth City Council and the city manager on June 11 saying he believed the responsibility for the events on June 10 rests “squarely on the shoulders of several elected and appointed officials,” not on police.
Those charged Monday are facing felony destruction of property charges. Some, including Sen. Lucas, are facing an additional charge of conspiracy to commit a felony.
While police body camera video does show Lucas telling police that protesters were going to vandalize the monument, Del. Don Scott, (D- Portsmouth), said Wednesday it was Greene’s failure to arrest anyone for doing it at the time.
Scott alleged police neglected their duties June 10: First, he said, by escalating tensions when they arrested two local NAACP leaders earlier that afternoon then, second, by failing to deescalate the situation later that night.
In McGee’s email on June 11, which was originally obtained and reported by the Huffington Post, the sergeant expressed displeasure that the blame was being put on police.
“For anyone to attempt to place blame on Chief Greene or the men and women of the Portsmouth Police Department or to continue to try to use us as pawns on their political agenda is absolutely disgusting and offensive,” McGee wrote.
McGee later took out the arrest warrants for the 14 people charged, but told the Huffington Post that “This department, including myself, conduct all investigations without bias and only present the facts as they are found.”
However Scott, who is representing Lucas as an attorney, said Thursday that is was concerning that McGee would write what he did to council and then take out criminal charges.
“We’ll let the process play out,” Scott said. “But it’s concerning.”
McGee said that the incident could have and should have been avoided by covering the monument or putting up scaffolding.
“I also have a pretty good idea what would happen had one police officer used force to attempt to stop the protesters and what the reaction of some of the elected officials including the Commonwealth Attorney would have been if we attempted to intervene,” McGee continued.
McGee said injecting police into a political agenda, such as Lucas’ political agenda, “is repulsive.”
Involvement of other officials
On Monday, several hours before the press conference when Greene announced the charges against the 14 in connection with the protest, Pettis Patton, the city manager, sent an email to City Council saying Greene should not have been involved in the investigation. She also said she had not heard about any decisions being made concerning the investigation until Aug. 17, the same day Greene announced the charges.
In addition to the possible conflict of interest, Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales said she did not see any full case files before Portsmouth Police took out the charges, which is what her office uses to make decisions on whether they prosecute cases.
Meanwhile, Greene said the commonwealth’s attorney could be called as a potential witness, precluding her office from receiving and viewing the complete investigative file.
At the end of the statement, Greene again defended her department’s involvement in the protest investigation.
Greene said: “I am aware that there are questions as to why my office investigated the destruction of the monument and proceeded with charges against the known offenders. My answer is simple, upon taking my oath of office when being sworn in as a law enforcement officer in the City of Richmond and then upon being sworn in as an Assistant Chief and then Chief of Police for the City of Portsmouth, I vowed to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia; and promised to faithfully and impartially discharge all the duties incumbent upon me, to the best of my ability. As the head of the primary law enforcement agency in the City of Portsmouth, it is my obligation to investigate all crimes that have occurred, and when probable cause exists, present that evidence for the prosecution, which is what was done in this matter.”
The MLK Leadership Steering Committee also sent a statement after Greene sent her statement Thursday:
“The MLK Leadership Steering Committee has lost confidence in Chief Greene and ask for her immediate resignation or termination. With many conflicts, The Portsmouth Police Department has attempted to manipulate the legal process and criminalize protests. Although we are skeptical of the criminal justice system at this hour, we trust Commonwealth’s Attorney Morales judgement and high ethical standards. As one of the leaders in criminal justice reform, we know that she will do what is in the best interest of fairness, equity and justice for the city of Portsmouth.
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