“It’s just an unnecessary nuisance but you know what? I will be vindicated,” Lucas (D-Portsmouth), who is the first African American president pro tempore in the Virginia State Senate, told reporters at Tuesday’s General Assembly special session.
Scott said he would fight the felony charges, which he says are in direct retribution to Lucas’s efforts to pass new police oversight laws. He called the legal action a vestige of suppression tactics wielded against civil rights leaders in the 1960s.
“The next step is we go to court and fight it and beat them,” Scott said. “And we’re going to pass the legislation to hold police accountable.”
On Monday, Portsmouth police charged Lucas with being part of a conspiracy to topple the city’s Confederate Monument during a protest on June 10. That day, Lucas appeared on video taken by police telling officers they could not arrest demonstrators and suggesting that Portsmouth City Manager Lydia Pettis Patton would back up her claim.
Warrants have also been served for at least five other Portsmouth community leaders, including members of the school board and local chapter of the NAACP, according to Victoria Varnedoe, a spokeswoman for the Portsmouth police department. In all, Police Chief Angela Greene announced felony warrants against more than a dozen people during a news conference Monday.
“The actions of the Portsmouth City Police Department further the necessity of meaningful reform,” said Robert Barnette Jr., president of the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP.
Legal experts say the way the Portsmouth police went about pursuing felony charges against Lucas and others is highly unusual given the political nature of the incident.
When faced with a high-profile or sensitive case, it is most common for police to pursue charges through the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office. But in this case, Stephanie Morales, the Portsmouth commonwealth’s attorney, said the police department had not shared the results of its investigation with her office and instead chose to secure warrants through the Office of the Magistrate.
“This is extraordinary,” said Steven Benjamin, a prominent Richmond attorney and a past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “This is the sort of case that should have been charged, if at all, only after consultation with the commonwealth’s attorney and the presentment of indictments to a grand jury.”
Julie McConnell, a former prosecutor in the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office and a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, called the timeline of the felony charges “out of the ordinary,” saying that police most often secure warrants days after an alleged incident. In this case, it took police more than two months.
“It just has a feel of retaliation,” she said.
At Tuesday’s special session, several Democratic representatives wore lapel pins created overnight by state Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D-Chesterfield) with Lucas’s photo and the words, “I stand with Louise.”
Lucas arrived 90 minutes late for the session, her initial absence feeding rumors that she had turned herself into the police.
“It’s all good,” she told reporters, donning her own lapel.