Embattled State Senator Lucas and Daughter at the Center of Portsmouth Conflict

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Portsmouth deputies served two misdemeanor charges against Portsmouth Vice-Mayor Lisa Lucas-Burke in her office on Monday, according to reporting by WAVY.com. Lucas-Burke is the daughter of Virginia State Senator Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth).

The charges were filed at the Portsmouth Magistrate by resident Thomas Dubois. The charges are based on Portsmouth City Charter § 3.11, which states that city appointments and terminations must be handled through the city manager, and that violation is a class three misdemeanor. If convicted, Lucas-Burke will face a fine and would be forced to leave her position as Vice-Mayor.

The charges against Lucas-Burke are the latest play in a battle in Portsmouth. Lucas was charged with two felonies on Monday, August 17 by the Portsmouth Police Department. The charges are linked to a June 10 protest at Portsmouth’s confederate monument. After the charges were announced, Lucas-Burke began calling for Portsmouth Police Chief Angela Greene’s termination.

In an email sent on Monday to The Virginia Star, Lucas-Burke said, “I meet with my attorney tomorrow at 3 p.m. and will have NO comment other than I’ve been charged with two (2) class 3 misdemeanors by a Thomas Dubois. Depending on the advice from my attorney, I will cease from further comments until my attorney advised otherwise.”

In addition to Lucas, Greene’s August 17 announcement included charges against 13 other people, including local NAACP leaders, a school board member, and three public defenders. The charges for some, including Lucas, are “conspiracy to commit a felony” and “felony injuring to a monument in excess of $1,000.” For others, including the public defenders, Greene did not use the conspiracy charge, only charging them with injuring the monument.

Lucas’ lawyer, Virginia Delegate Don Scott (D-Norfolk), said the charges against Lucas are politically motivated and are part of a move designed to prevent Lucas and other black leaders from being in power. Scott said Portsmouth is going through a transition marked by conflict between racists and black leaders.

The Protests

On May 26, Minneapolis erupted in protests over the death of George Floyd. The protests spread across the nation and by May 30, protests in Portsmouth were in full swing, according to The Virginian-Pilot. On June 4, WAVY.com reported that Greene marched with the protesters.

On June 9, Greene authorized protesters to enter the fence surrounding a local confederate monument to cover the four statues inside with bags and sheets, according to The Virginian-Pilot. The following morning, June 10, the statues were discovered uncovered. Portsmouth NAACP President James Boyd and Vice President Louie Gibbs were arrested for trespassing when they attempted to re-cover the monuments, Wavy.com reported. They were released later that afternoon.

A defamation lawsuit by Lucas against Portsmouth lawyer Tim Anderson states that at 2:15 p.m., Lucas learned of the arrests. Lucas then drove to Portsmouth. Police bodycam footage shows Lucas saying, “I’m telling you, you can’t arrest them.”

“Lucas asserted to the citizens of Portsmouth that they had the right to peacefully protest and that no one should be arrested,” the lawsuit’s facts state.

Greene arrived at the monument around the same time. Greene’s bodycam footage shows Greene speaking with Lucas.

 

According to the lawsuit, “Lucas advised Chief Greene… that she had spoken to Dr. [Lydia Pettis] Patton, Portsmouth’s City Manager, who had assured Senator Lucas that no one would be arrested for trespass or for peacefully protesting.”

In the footage, Greene responds, “I’ll give her a call, but I talked to [Patton] like five minutes ago, and no one is allowed onto the property.”

Greene’s bodycam footage shows protesters entering the fence and painting the statues. The lawsuit states Lucas did not tell protesters to do anything illegal, and left the monument after just 30 minutes, and did not return.

At 5 p.m., the Portsmouth City Council held a virtual meeting where they decided to consider relocating the monument. In addition to the council members, Mayor John Rowe, Lucas-Burke, Patton, and City Attorney Solomon Ashby were present.

The protest continued, and at 9 p.m., reporter Saleen Martin tweeted: “All four [statues] have been beheaded tonight.”

Videos posted by Martin show a calm atmosphere as a brass band plays energetic music. At 9:13 p.m., Martin tweeted that a statue fell on a protester. Chief Greene later said that this was the moment that SWAT officers intervened to save the man, Chris Green. At 9:19 p.m., Martin tweeted that Gibbs asked the protesters to disperse and allow first responders to rescue Green.

The Reaction

The following day, June 11, Portsmouth officials requested a state police investigation. Lucas began calling for Greene to be terminated, saying she had “abdicated her responsibility to maintain the peace,” WAVY.com reported. Sergeant Kevin McGee emailed Portsmouth officials defending police actions, The Virginian-Pilot reported.

The same day, Rowe released a statement on Facebook explaining that the police did not intervene in the June 10 vandalism because the required use of force would have heightened tension and increased the risk of other incidents.

“Our Police Department made the right choice — confine the vandalism to this one piece of public property so as to protect the remaining private property and lives,” Rowe wrote.

Meanwhile, lawyer Tim Anderson alleged in a Facebook video that Lucas had incited a riot. Over the next few weeks, Anderson began circulating a petition to recall Lucas.

On June 23, the city council appropriated $250,000 from a contingency fund to remove the monument. On June 30, Don Scott Law filed the defamation suit on behalf of Lucas against Anderson, claiming over $20 million in damages. The suit states, “Anderson stated falsely in his video and online interviews that Senator Lucas had caused the citizens to pull down the statue.”

Anderson shared copies of the suit with The Virginia Star. He said his lawyers responded to the suit claiming that Anderson’s actions did not constitute defamation. Because of the lawsuit, the Portsmouth Tea Party took over efforts to recall Lucas.

On July 1, City Attorney Solomon Ashby sent police bodycam videos of the June 10 incident to the city council, according to a July 3 letter Mayor Rowe forwarded to The Virginia Star.

In the letter, Rowe said the videos contain statements by Lucas “which represent that she had just talked with me about what was taking place at the monument that day. She further suggested that I had given authority for the actions which followed. These statements are untrue.”

According to an AP report, the trespassing charges against NAACP leaders Boyd and Gibbs were dropped on July 31.

On August 2, the Portsmouth Tea Party led a protest at the monument. In a Facebook post, organizers wrote, “We rally at the desecrated historic monument at Court and High Street. We will now take back our streets, our city, our historic monument, our freedoms, our rights, our birth rights as Americans.”

The Virginian-Pilot reported that three counter-protesters were arrested and released for disorderly conduct.

Felony Charges

On August 17, Chief Greene held a press conference where she announced the felony warrants against Lucas and the other leaders. The charges were a result of an investigation by Sergeant McGee, the Washington Post reported. Greene requested that Lucas and the others turn themselves in.

“This investigation yielded the same results of holding individuals who commit crimes in our city accountable but was done in a safe manner so that my officers and no other members of the public were harmed,” Greene said.

 

The department’s probable cause summary listed Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales as a possible witness, disqualifying her from being involved in the case.

The charges immediately received attention from politicians and media. @VASenateDems tweeted a quote from Senator Mamie Locke (D-Hampton): “This thinly veiled attempt to intimidate and silence the most powerful Black woman in the Virginia legislature is emblematic of the deep need for change.”

The Republican Party of Virginia called for Lucas to turn herself in, quoting chairman Rich Anderson. “Senator Lucas’s behavior is far from what leaders of our Commonwealth should strive for. Felony charges leveled against a sitting State Senator are to be taken seriously, and should not be sought out for political gain,” Anderson said.

Lucas turned herself in on August 18, according to CNN. She was released on bond, according to WTKR. Lucas was present at a special session of the Virginia Senate later that day. Meanwhile, former Governor Terry McAuliffe called for Virginians to sign a petition showing support for Lucas.

The same day, Morales’ office published a press release responding to the charges and claims that she was a witness.

“Mrs. Morales was not on scene to be an eyewitness to any of the matters listed,” the release states. “The Portsmouth Police Department chose their traditional process of securing warrants … in lieu of submitting complete investigative results to this office.”

On August 19, Lucas-Burke posted an email from City Manager Patton on Facebook. In the email, Patton states, “I was surprised and troubled when I was informed that despite acknowledging a Conflict of Interest, Chief Greene and members of the Police Department continued to be engaged without my knowledge.”

The Portsmouth Police Department responded with a press release on August 20. In it, Greene clarified that although the department initially believed there were conflicts of interest for the department, it eventually determined that there were none.

“After all efforts were exhausted to have a special grand jury appointed or an outside agency investigate the matter, it was evident that the investigation would be left up to our agency. It then became the sworn duty of the Portsmouth Police Department to begin the comprehensive investigation, until such a time that an actual conflict arose in this matter,” Greene wrote.

Greene concluded, “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.”

On Friday, August 21, lawyer Tim Anderson suggested that citizens could charge Lucas-Burke. Anderson posted a video on his Facebook page showing Lucas-Burke saying the city manager should prioritize firing Portsmouth Police Chief Greene. Anderson also posted Portsmouth City Charter § 3.11.

On Sunday, Anderson told The Virginia Star in a text, “The Vice-Mayor of Portsmouth (Lucas’ daughter) may be charged today.”

That afternoon, WAVY.com reported that local resident Thomas Dubois filed charges against Lucas-Burke with the Portsmouth Magistrate. Dubois told WAVY.com his next court date is set for September 2. Lucas-Burke was served with the charges on August 24.

Lucas’ lawyer Don Scott told CNN that Lucas’ next court appearance will be September 4.

“[Lucas] will be vindicated,” Lucas’ lawyer Scott told The Star.

Republicans Blast Lucas

State Senator Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield), an announced gubernatorial candidate, who serves with Lucas in the Virginia Senate, has called for her colleague to resign. Chase noted that the Senate recently passed SB 183, legislation allowing localities to remove or cover any monuments. The law took effect on July 1. Chase said Lucas should have followed the processes set out in the law. According to Chase, Lucas’ conviction is inevitable.

“I’ve seen the police footage, and I saw for myself what she did, and she clearly overstepped her bounds as a legislator. You know, we don’t have the ability to tell law enforcement to stand back, that’s not in our purview,” Chase told The Star.

Former Senator Bill Carrico, (R-Grayson), another likely candidate for governor, told The Star that if Lucas thinks the laws are unjust, as a legislator, she can change them.

“[Lucas] had to know that going down there and letting people deface the monument and stirring up the crowd and not letting the law enforcement officers do their job had to be something that she couldn’t do,” Carrico said. “We’ve got to hold even lawmakers accountable for things like that. That is anarchy in its worst form.”

Thomas Dubois did not respond to The Star’s request for comment by press time.

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network.  Email tips to [email protected]. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photo “State Sen Louise Lucas” by State Sen Louise Lucas.

 

 

 

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