Activist circles are in an uproar over controversial felony charges facing Virginia State Senator Louise Lucas. In a briefing held on August 17, Portsmouth, Virginia Police Chief Angela Greene announced that Lucas, along with 13 others, is accused of “conspiracy to commit a felony and injury to a monument in excess of $1,000,” according to Virginia’s Wavy.com. “I will be vindicated,” Lucas shouted to Wavy reporters as she arrived at the Virginia Assembly on Tuesday, August 18.
Lucas, who turned herself in to the Portsmouth Sheriff’s office on Tuesday, was quickly released on a personal recognizance bond, which means she wasn’t required to post bail, according to CNN. The charge stems from an incident on June 10 when Portsmouth’s Confederate monument was broken apart by Black Lives Matter protesters. That act led to one protester being severely injured when part of the statue landed on him, according to Wavy.
Lucas’s attorney Don Scott Jr. spoke to CNN and said his client attended the demonstration against the confederate monument early in the afternoon, but she stayed for "no longer than 30 minutes." The injured man, Chris Green, was injured by the monument later that evening, CNN reported at the time.
Reports the Virginian-Pilot:
Police charged 14 people with felony injury to a monument, and eight of them also face a conspiracy charge. Those charged in the cases: Lucas, NAACP President James Boyd and Vice President Louie Gibbs, School Board member LaKeesha “Klu” Atkinson, Public Defender Brenda Spry, assistant public defenders Meredith Cramer and Alexandra Stephens, Amira Bethea, Kimberly Wimbish, Dana Worthington, Lakesha Hicks, Raymond Brothers, Hanah Renae Rivera and Brandon Woodard.
…Several of those charged Monday were present on the day of the protest, but it’s not clear whether any of them are accused of being present hours later, when people beheaded the statues and a man was seriously injured by a falling piece of the structure. Lucas had left hours earlier.
The Virginian-Pilot describes Lucas as “one of the most prominent Democrats in the state and a Black lawmaker who has publicly called for police reforms.”
The Virginia State Conference of the NAACP released a statement obtained by the Virginian Pilot, saying these charges are “deeply” troubling.
“The actions of the Portsmouth City Police Department further the necessity of meaningful reform,” Robert N. Barnette Jr., state conference president, said in the statement. “These charges demonstrate the latest pattern of injustice which shows that African Americans are subjected to a totally different justice system.”
Scott told Wavy-TV these charges are an act of desperation. “Consequently they’re doing what they always do which is they weaponize the criminal justice system against Black leadership and that’s what they’re doing this time we’re gonna fight it vehemently, we’re gonna fight it vigorously,” he said.
A group of activists called Race Capitol are taking to social media to call for charges against Lucas and all protesters to be dropped immediately:
A post shared by Race Capitol (@racecapitol) on Aug 17, 2020 at 7:21pm PDT
In another eyebrow-raising twist in the case against Lucas, Portsmouth police have named the city’s top prosecutor, Attorney Stephanie Morales, as a “potential material and eyewitness” either the prosecution or defense, according to the Virginian-Pilot. If called to testify, this would essentially block Morales’s ability to be involved in the prosecution of the cases.
Reports the Virginian-Pilot:
William & Mary law professor Jeffrey Bellin called the move “very unusual.”
“It is the prosecutor’s job to decide whether charges are justified and the voters elect their local Commonwealth Attorney precisely for this purpose,” Bellin wrote in an email. “Unless there is a clear justification for disqualification, this action will further undermine confidence in the justice system at a time when that confidence is critically important.”
A Portsmouth police spokeswoman, Victoria Varnedoe, did not respond to an email asking why Morales was listed as a potential witness.
In a phone interview with the Virginian-Pilot, Morales said she was not present at the June 10 protest. If served with a subpoena, Morales will file a motion to quash it. If that request is denied, “Morales and her office would not be able to prosecute the cases, and a special prosecutor from outside the city would have to be called in,” according to the Virginian-Pilot.
Morales, a Black Democrat, has been very vocal about the need for police reform, the Virginian-Pilot reports. According to the news outlet:
She is one of 11 commonwealth’s attorneys who make up the “Virginia Progressive Prosecutors for Justice,” a group calling for changes including restricting “no-knock” search warrants, expanding prosecutors’ discretionary powers and police accountability measures.
Morales was unaware charges were coming when police announced them late Monday, the Virginian-Pilot reports.