Woodson did not immediately respond to questions about the cause or duration of the leave, which was first reported by the Virginian-Pilot.
Greene took the helm of the department in March 2019, amid another moment of racially charged politics in Portsmouth, a majority-Black city that’s patrolled by a majority-White police force. Tonya Chapman, the first Black woman to lead a municipal police force in Virginia, had just been forced out — she said for challenging systemic racism in the department.
On Aug. 17, Greene brought felony charges against Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) and more than a dozen others — including representatives of the NAACP, public defender’s office and school board — who had attended a June 10 protest around the Confederate monument in the city’s Olde Towne section. Hours after Lucas left, protesters pulled down a statue, which fell on a man in the crowd, causing grave injuries.
The move against the state’s most senior African American legislator came on the eve of a special General Assembly session called, in part, to address racial injustice and police brutality. Lucas’s supporters had called the charges payback for her efforts to overhaul policing. Greene said she was just enforcing the law.
Greene’s leave does not immediately affect the status of the criminal charges, which brought Lucas to Portsmouth General District Court on Friday morning for an arraignment — a legally perfunctory appearance that drew Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) to the courthouse in support of Lucas. Fairfax, who presides over the state Senate, spoke to reporters with the senator at his side.
“You have a whole nation right now that’s crying out for justice,” he told WTKR-TV Friday morning, before Greene’s leave had become public. “Right now Portsmouth can turn an injustice into justice that can be a light for the rest of the country.”
Michael Massie, an attorney who represents two NAACP leaders and a school board member in the case, said he was optimistic that in Greene’s absence, the police department will abandon efforts to circumvent Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales by seeking a special prosecutor.
Morales has declined to discuss the merits of the case but has expressed concerns about the procedural fairness. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
Greene has sought to subpoena Morales as a witness, although the prosecutor has said she was not on the scene. Morales has sought to quash the subpoena.
“I would think that that piece would end with the chief being removed,” Massie said.
The defendants are next due in court for a preliminary hearing. No date has been set, Massie said.