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Virginia Sen. Louise Lucas cleared of charges of conspiring to topple Confederate monument

Virginia state Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) at work in the statehouse last year. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

Virginia Sen. L. Louise Lucas was cleared Monday of felony charges alleging that she helped conspire to topple a Confederate monument in the city of Portsmouth during a summer protest over police brutality and racial inequity.

In a court filing, the office of Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales (D) said police failed to show any evidence that a felony had been committed.

But the tensions surrounding the since-removed monument continued to simmer Monday, with the Portsmouth police chief who brought the criminal ­charges claiming that she had been fired in reprisal, and Lucas (D-Portsmouth) calling the case an attempt to “bring down” Black leadership in the coastal city of 94,000 residents.

Then-Portsmouth Police Chief Angela Greene pursued the charges against Lucas and 18 co-defendants in August, citing their alleged actions at demonstrations near the monument on June 10, in the heated days after the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.

Lucas, the first Black woman to serve as president pro tempore of the Virginia Senate, was part of a crowd gathered at the 35-foot granite obelisk ringed by four statues, erected to honor slain Confederate soldiers from Portsmouth and surrounding Norfolk County. Video taken by police shows Lucas telling officers they could not arrest the demonstrators, who she said were about to paint the monument.

In the video, Lucas suggested that then-City Manager Lydia Pettis Patton would back up her claim.

Greene announced the warrants for Lucas and her co-defendants — including three local public defenders, a local school board member and the president of the Portsmouth NAACP — the day before the senator joined other lawmakers in Richmond for a special session of the General Assembly.

The charges drew outrage from Lucas’s political allies, who called the accusations payback for the veteran legislator’s work to rein in police abuses.

The Confederate monument was taken down by the city and cleared away last month.

On the day she was served, Lucas called the charges “an unnecessary nuisance.”

“But you know what?” she said. “I will be vindicated.”

On Monday, she called the charges a “national embarrassment” for a city whose residents are 55 percent African American, and said Greene’s termination was “the right decision.”

“Just look at all the people they charged,” said Lucas, whose daughter Lisa Lucas-Burke serves as vice mayor in Portsmouth. “If they had been successful in getting me convicted of those ­charges, I would have lost my ability to maintain a license to run my business, I would have lost my voting rights, I would have lost my ability to serve in the Senate of Virginia. Their intent was to destroy my life.”

Morales’s office said police also did not produce evidence that officers tried to stop the demonstrators that June day. The prosecutors noted that police didn’t begin assessing the value of the damage to the monument — a central component to the charges of destruction of property — until early October.

“A number of officers with the Portsmouth Police Department remained present on scene while observing various persons inflict damage to the monument and failed to intervene for several hours,” the dismissal motion said.

The department had tried to remove Morales from the case and bring in a special prosecutor, citing Morales’s political support for Lucas, which includes $400 in donations to the senator’s campaign fund in recent years.

In October, according to court records, a city police investigator asked Morales to recuse herself as a material witness, citing text messages the prosecutor sent to Greene on the day of the demonstration that indicated her reluctance for peaceful protesters to be jailed and her concerns about signs that were being posted at the monument threatening trespassers with prosecution.

But a General District Court judge ruled there was no evidence showing a need for Morales to recuse herself and ordered police to turn over the investigative file to her office.

By then, Greene had been placed on administrative leave, after several elected officials, including Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D), expressed outrage over the warrants.

City officials said at the time that action was taken because of an investigation into Greene’s personnel file and not the controversy over the charges.

On Monday, Greene said she was a victim of political reprisal and planned to file a wrongful-termination suit against the city.

“We want to make sure that this cycle ends, and that law enforcement is able to continue to protect the community and continue to enforce the law without interference from political leaders,” Greene said during a short news conference outside Portsmouth City Hall.

City government spokeswoman Dana Woodson would not comment on Greene’s departure, other than to say that she was no longer working for the city.

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