PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — More than a year after protesters destroyed Portsmouth’s 54-foot-tall Confederate monument, a petition has been submitted to have state Sen. L. Louise Lucas “immediately” removed from office over her role in the incident.
The petition filed Tuesday in Chesapeake Circuit Court accuses Lucas of misusing her office when she told Portsmouth police officers they “could not arrest” protesters who were trespassing on the monument.
The gathering turned destructive — with people breaking apart the historic structure — after Lucas left the scene. A man was severely injured when of the bronze statues was pulled down on top of him.
In the petition, a group of residents and registered voters say they obtained signatures from 10% of voters in the last election, or 4,652 people, in the 18th Senatorial District that Lucas represents, which includes Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Franklin, Suffolk, Surry County, Isle of Wight County, Southampton County, and other localities.
The petition was originally started by Virginia Beach attorney Tim Anderson — now a candidate for the 83rd House of Delegates District — however, he ceased his involvement when Lucas sued him for defamation.
Nelson Velez, 62, of Chesapeake, and several others from the Portsmouth Tea Party continued gathering signatures throughout the pandemic and Velez turned it in Tuesday.
“Nobody has ever done this before but we went through and made sure every petition signature met the criteria,” Velez said. “At one point, we had to throw out more than 1,000 because they either didn’t vote or didn’t live in Senator Lucas’ district.”
The court clerk will now have to make sure all the signatures are verified before handing the petitions over to a judge, who ultimately has the power to remove Lucas from office.
Velez wants Lucas to be held accountable for her actions.
Lucas did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday night.
The protest at the center of the petition escalated throughout the day on June 10, 2020.
It came as the entire country was experiencing a period of civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
In Virginia, racial justice advocates took aim at Virginia’s Confederate monuments, saying they stand as a symbol of oppression.
Protesters gathered at the monument near the intersection of Court and High streets much of that day. The night before, Portsmouth City Council had discussed starting the process to move the monument but hadn’t made a firm commitment for where or when it would be moved.
At one point during the day, as protesters gathered, the city placed “No trespassing signs” on the fencing surrounding the monument. Two Portsmouth NAACP chapter leaders were arrested and charged with trespassing.
In the afternoon, as more protesters arrived at the site, Lucas also showed up.
Body camera footage from police showed Lucas telling Portsmouth officers “they’re going to put some paint on this thing, and y’all cannot arrest them.”
“In grandiose behavior and in front of several witnesses, the actions of Senator Lucas caused persons in the crowd to announce on social media that no one will be arrested on the direction of Senator Lucas,” the petition states.
The petition goes on to say police officers didn’t arrest or disperse the crowd.
By the evening, a large group had gathered and many protesters were covering the monument in paint and breaking off pieces. Some protesters also played music at one point, giving the demonstration a somewhat celebratory atmosphere.
As protesters continued to dismantle the structure, one of its four soldier statues was pulled down to the ground, hitting a man and seriously injuring him.
The petition filed Tuesday calls the demonstration a “riot” and “mob.” It also says Lucas had no right to order police not to arrest those who were vandalizing the monument. It also claims it took the police chief “substantial time” to determine who ordered no arrests be made.
The petition claims Lucas knew her actions would “escalate the aggression of the protesters,” and that her orders for police to not make arrests would encourage protesters to trespass at the monument. It blames Lucas for the injuries of Chris Green, the man injured by the soldier statue.
It also says Lucas knew that the July 1, 2020 effective date for the state’s new policy allowing localities to remove or alter their monuments was also upcoming, which would give the city an avenue to safely move the structure.
“The city has had three years to cover it, let them cover it,” Lucas can be heard saying in a Facebook live video from June 10, 2020. “This is city property, and anybody who pays taxes in this city got a right to be on their property. To hell with City Council.”
Lucas told a reporter days later that she was not aware state law didn’t allow for local governments to alter the monument ahead of July 1.
The monument was officially removed from the roadway in fall 2020.
In the two and a half months following the protest, Portsmouth police announced 19 people — including Lucas, several local NAACP members, a school board member, local public defenders and other area residents — would face charges.
Police Chief Angela Greene was also fired in November after controversy over her handling of the incident. She has been on leave for about two months at that time. She’s maintained she did nothing wrong.