All Charges Dropped Against Sen. Lucas

People living with HIV can be prosecuted in Virginia

By Arianna Coghill

November 16, 2020

Case stemmed from summer protests in Portsmouth

PORTSMOUTH- Earlier this year, the Portsmouth City Police Department charged Virginia’s first Black, female Senate leader with two felonies in connection to a botched statue removal. Now, those charges have been dropped and the city’s police chief has lost her job.

“They’ve gotten away with it for too long…not this time,” said Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) to a crowd outside a Portsmouth courthouse. Judge Claire Caldwell dismissed the charges on Monday morning. Caldwell, a Richmond judge, oversaw the case since several local judges stepped down.

After the death of George Floyd earlier in the year, there was a large, public pressure to remove Confederate monuments across the country, including Virginia.

In June, a Portsmouth protest took a turn when the crowd tried to take the statue down themselves, injuring a man in the process. A falling piece of debris struck him on the head. Lucas, who did not attempt to take down the statue, was at the protest a short while. According to several sources, she left before the protesters tried to take down the statue.

Two months later, the Portsmouth Police Department filed numerous warrants against Lucas and 18 other people in connection to the statue’s removal. During a press conference, Angela Greene, who was police chief at the time, said that a police investigation revealed evidence against Lucas and the others.

READ MORE: First Black Woman to Lead VA State Senate Charged With ‘Injury’ to a Confederate Statue

So, What Happened to this Case?

Now, Lucas was accused of conspiring with the protesters in order to take down the statue. However, according to her lawyer, she had already left the protest hours earlier. But, it was her statements while she was there that Portsmouth PD tried to use as probable cause.

According to officers who were at the scene, Lucas had told them not to arrest the protesters. But, she never mentioned anything about them taking down the statue. She only talked about them painting it.

“They are going to put some paint on this thing, and y’all can’t arrest them,” said Lucas, according to reports from WSET. According to the filing, police “informed Senator Lucas that she could not tell people they can do that.”

‘I’m not telling them to do anything, I’m telling you, you can’t arrest them,” Lucas allegedly replied.

For many, it was no surprise that the courts dropped this case. From the very beginning, lawyers called it flimsy. Back in August, William & Mary law professor Timothy Zick told The Associated Press that he questioned the strength of the case.

As a result of this flimsy evidence, the commonwealth’s attorney Stephanie Morales tried to throw out the case. But the department stopped her.

However, it appeared that Judge Caldwell agreed with Morales. According to CBS 9, Caldwell had an issue with the way that department filed the charges. Usually, when a case involves a high profile suspect like a state senator, the department will make sure the prosecutor approves the charges. In this case, the department did not.

According to CBS 19, Caldwell also did not like Portsmouth PD’s attempt to stop Morales’s dismissal. After she requested the dismissal, the department tried to prevent it by calling Morales as a witness. But if the case was so flimsy, why did police department push so hard? Many of Lucas’s supporters suspect it was political.

Was It a Political Power Play?

Right after the Portsmouth PD announced the charges, there was a huge outcry from government leaders across the state. Many called this act a political power play by the Portsmouth PD. The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus released a statement shortly afterwards.

“I believe during the incident in question, Sen. Lucas stood up for protesters,” said Chairman Lamont Bagby. “She was there fighting for justice. These charges against her are simply outrageous.” 

There were also a lot of strange elements about it from the start.

First of all, the timing of these charges was very suspicious. News of the charges came out right before the General Assembly held a special session centered around police reform. In fact, Lucas received the news on her way to the session. She turned herself in soon afterwards.

“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 tweeted in response to the Portsmouth Police Department’s announcement. 

Several of Lucas’ supporters called for Greene’s resignation. Now, Greene is no longer Portsmouth’s police chief. She lost her job shortly before the judge cleared the charges against Lucas. According to her, city officials have not told her the reason for her termination. She also plans on filing a lawsuit in the near future.

“I believe I was wrongfully terminated for upholding the law,” she said to the Virginian Pilot. However, there is no evidence confirming nor denying it.

Arianna Coghill is a content producer with the Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]

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