Greene announced the warrants one day before Lucas was due to join other legislators in Richmond for a special session of the General Assembly called, in part, to address issues of racial inequity and police brutality raised after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody in May.
Lucas was not in police custody and intended to attend the session, according to several Democrats who said they spoke with her on Monday.
“It’s deeply troubling that on the verge of Virginia passing long-overdue police reform, the first Black woman to serve as our Senate Pro Tempore is suddenly facing highly unusual charges,” Gov. Ralph Northam (D) tweeted. “I look forward to seeing you in Richmond tomorrow — so we can get to work.”
At a news conference announcing the charges Monday afternoon, Greene said: “Several individuals conspired and organized to destroy the monument as well as summon hundreds of people to join in the felonious acts, which not only resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to the monument but also permanent injury to an individual.”
Lucas, who as the Senate’s first African American president pro tempore leads the chamber when the lieutenant governor is absent, did not respond to requests for comment. Her attorney, Del. Don L. Scott Jr. (D-Portsmouth), called the charges “a political stunt meant to weaponize the criminal justice system against African Americans.”
Some of the state’s most prominent Democrats came to Lucas’s defense, including at least four 2021 candidates for governor: former governor Terry McAuliffe, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, Sen. Jennifer McClellan (Richmond) and Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy (Prince William).
Lucas is treasurer of McAuliffe’s political action committee. “Her opposition to a racist monument is the definition of what John Lewis called ‘good trouble,’ ” McAuliffe tweeted, referring to the Georgia congressman and civil rights leader who died last month.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, which counts Lucas as a member, called the timing “suspicious” and the charges “baseless.” The group issued a statement suggesting that the charges were retaliation because Lucas had proposed to strengthen independent oversight of police departments.
“This is not a coincidence. It’s out of the same playbook from the ’60s,” tweeted Del. Marcia S. “Cia” Price (D-Newport News).
Rich Anderson, a former state delegate elected over the weekend as chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, issued a statement calling on Lucas to “immediately turn herself in.”
Members of the General Assembly cannot be arrested on some charges during legislative sessions or the 15-day period leading up to them, under a provision in the state constitution intended to prohibit politically motivated arrests. But that protection does not apply to felonies. Lucas, along with several of the others who were charged, faces two felonies: conspiracy to commit a felony and injury to a monument causing more than $1,000 in damage.
On Monday afternoon, Del. Lee J. Carter (D-Manassas) tweeted: “I’ve just started the process of drafting legislation to repeal the felony ‘injury to a monument’ crime from the Code of Virginia.”
As demonstrations after Floyd’s killing spread across the country, Confederate statues and monuments became a focal point for protests in the state, including in Portsmouth.
As a crowd gathered at the Confederate Monument in Portsmouth on June 10, Lucas appeared on video taken by police telling officers that they could not arrest demonstrators, who she said were about to paint the monument. She suggested that Portsmouth City Manager Lydia Pettis Patton would back up her claim.
“They’re going to put some paint on this thing and y’all cannot arrest them,” Lucas is heard saying on the video. “You need to call Dr. Patton because they’re going to do it. You can’t stop them. This is city property, all right. They got a right to go ahead.”
An officer responds: “Ma’am, you can’t tell them to do that.”
According to the video, Lucas replies: “I’m not telling them to do anything. I’m telling you, you can’t arrest them. Call Dr. Patton.”
Later, protesters not only painted the monument but pulled part of it down, with the statue falling on a man’s head, seriously injuring him. Greene called the man’s injuries “life-altering.”
Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said Lucas had left the scene hours before the statue came down.
“She left at 1 o’clock and riots began at 9 in the evening,” Saslaw said. “I just don’t know how you incite a riot eight hours after you left the place. There’s something that just does not make any sense.”
More than a month after protesters pulled down one figure from the Confederate memorial, the City Council voted to remove the entire monument, though it has not yet come down.
Portsmouth police announced charges against 14 people. Others facing the same charges as Lucas include Portsmouth NAACP representatives James Boyd, Louie Gibbs and LaKesha Hicks; and LaKeesha S. “Klu” Atkinson, a city School Board member.
Three public defenders — Brenda Spry, Alexandra Stephens and Meredith Cramer — face a single felony charge of injury to a monument in excess of $1,000.
None of those charged immediately responded to messages seeking comment. WTKR-TV reported in June that Spry was seen on video spray painting the monument. When asked about her actions, Spry told the station, “Sometimes you just have to follow your heart.”
Lucas has long been a powerful figure in Portsmouth, a majority-Black city, but has sometimes clashed with city leaders. This year, she accomplished a 20-year goal of getting the General Assembly to pass a law permitting casino gambling in her city, which has struggled to develop its economy.