PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The City of Portsmouth is paying out thousands of dollars to 10 people who claim their rights were violated when they were arrested in connection with the vandalism and destruction of the city’s Confederate monument in 2020.
The checks for $15,000 each were cut on Oct. 20 and 21, according to copies obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. Among those who received one included Portsmouth Judge Brenda Spry, school board Vice-Chair LaKeesha Atkinson, and James Boyd, president of the Portsmouth chapter of the NAACP.
Spry, Atkinson, Boyd and the seven others were all charged in August 2020 with felonies after they participated in the demonstration at the Portsmouth Confederate monument on June 10, 2020, during which the historic structure was painted, damaged and a man was nearly killed.
Body camera video as well as videos on social media show several of the individuals trespassing on the monument and spray painting it.
While the charges were all eventually dropped, attorneys argue their clients are due payment for being “improperly defamed” when there was “no credible evidence to support the charges.”
The settlements were given the go-ahead in a closed-door session of Portsmouth City Council last month, according to Interim City Attorney Burle Stromberg. He said it’s not uncommon for cities to routinely try to settle claims of wrongdoing outside of the courtroom.
Those who received settlement payments include:
- Judge Brenda Spry, Portsmouth Circuit Court
- LaKeesha Atkinson, Vice-Chair, Portsmouth School Board
- James Boyd, President, Portsmouth NAACP
- Louie Gibbs, Vice President, Portsmouth NAACP
- Lakesha K. Hicks, Vice President, Portsmouth NAACP
- Amira Bethea, member, Portsmouth NAACP
- Kim Wimbish, publicist, community activist
- Alexandra Stephens, Portsmouth public defender
- Dana Worthington, member, Portsmouth NAACP
- Meredith Cramer, Portsmouth public defender
In a letter from attorney Michael Massie, who represented everyone except Spry, he wrote that his clients’ “reputation and character … were severely damaged.” Massie echoed comments made by the judge who dismissed the charges, saying police failed to prove their case and that “police files were riddled with inaccuracies and conclusions drawn upon the opinions of the investigation officers and not based solely or even supported by the evidence.”
He demanded $100,000 for each of his clients and Spry’s attorney demanded $150,000.
Massie didn’t return a call requesting comment on if he was satisfied with the $15,000 amount. Several of those receiving checks declined to comment.
“It was a terrible injustice that was done to these activists just trying to exercise their First Amendment rights and they were due something,” said Councilman Mark Whitaker when asked about the decision.
Whitaker said the City Council did its due diligence before making a decision and said the payments were “a way of taking care of them for being involved in this situation.”
Councilman Bill Moody and Paul Battle didn’t return requests for comment. Vice Mayor De’Andre Barnes declined to comment because the discussion was held in closed session.
Mayor Shannon Glover said he was not at the meeting and Councilwoman Lisa Lucas-Burke recused herself on account of her mother’s — state Sen. Louise Lucas — suit against the former police chief and a police sergeant claiming unlawful charges.
No settlement has been agreed upon in that case.
The settlements come on top of the already $250,000 spent to remove the damaged monument. It currently remains unrepaired in storage.