PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — A Richmond-based judge ruled Monday that Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales was not a witness in the June incident at the city’s Confederate monument, a major victory for State Senator Louise Lucas and other prominent Black leaders charged in the monument destruction case.
Judge Claire Cardwell ruled Morales can’t be subpoenaed to testify as a witness. That now puts Morales firmly in charge of the entire case, which has put Portsmouth in the national headlines over cries of racism in politics.
Lucas (D), a longtime member of the Virginia legislation and the current Senate president pro tempore, faces charges of conspiracy to commit a felony and injury to a monument in excess of $1,000 after an investigation by the Portsmouth Police Department. Several other local Black leaders, including members of the NAACP, also face felony charges.
Portsmouth Police Chief Angela Greene announced the charges against Lucas and 13 others back in August. Officers later announced an additional five people were charged in connection the incident, which left a man seriously injured when part of the monument was pulled down on his head.
It’s unclear how Morales, who is Black and a Democrat, would decide to move forward with the case, but the judge’s ruling means all evidence would be turned over to her.
Lucas will have now her preliminary hearing on November 16, along with cases for the NAACP defendants. Cases for others charged in the incident will be heard on November 23 and November 30.
Lucas’ attorneys had planned to file a motion to dismiss the cases against Lucas on Monday, citing a state law that says no investigation of a Virginia elected official “or any political subdivision to determine whether a criminal violation has occurred” can be started without the request of the governor, attorney general or a grand jury. However, the judge only ruled on the Morales subpoena.
“Now we will go back on our motion where Senator Lucas never should have been named in this manner; she did not do anything wrong. She was there for 15 to 20 minutes tops and she left,” said defense attorney Don Scott, who is also a member of the Virginia General Assembly.
After the hearing, Lucas and supporters celebrated a ruling they say was fair and just.
“This is all politics,” said Scott. “The judge saw it for what it was. The commonwealth’s attorney should never have been subpoenaed in this matter.”
Several developments have happened since Greene announced the charges in August. Greene was placed on administrative leave after City Manager Lydia Pettis Patton said there was a conflict of interest involving the investigation. Greene had claimed her department was forced to investigate the case after “all efforts were exhausted” to find an outside agency to do the job. Since then, Pettis Patton resigned ahead of a planned retirement and City Attorney Solomon Ashby was fired.
WAVY’s Regina Mobley will have more details coming up on WAVY News 10 at 4.