The police chief of Portsmouth, Virginia, was fired Monday in what she suggested was a politically motivated move moments before criminal charges were dropped against a prominent state senator and several local Black leaders accused of conspiring to damage a Confederate statue during a protest this year.
The latest twist in the case involving state Sen. Louise Lucas, a high-ranking Democrat who is Virginia's most senior Black legislator, drew praise from members of her own party who condemned the charges.
The absolute right call. @SenLouiseLucas is a warrior for justice and this situation serves as a reminder of the systemic ills we're working to combat every day.
An empowered Civil Rights Division in the AG's office would stamp out these baseless claims.
— Jay Jones (@jonesjay) November 16, 2020
Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe tweeted: "Our hero Louise Lucas and her fellow proud Portsmouth citizens deserve our admiration. Grateful this despicable political persecution is over."
Portsmouth police in August charged Lucas and 18 other plaintiffs, including a school board member and members of the local NAACP chapter and the public defender's office, with conspiracy to commit a felony and injury to a monument in excess of $1,000.
Lucas said in a statement Tuesday that the Portsmouth Police Department "made a mockery of the criminal justice system" by filing "obscure felony charges against me and other Portsmouth citizens and in so doing, they created a scandalous national embarrassment for our city."
"It is obvious that everyone involved in that malicious investigation was determined to destroy me politically, professionally and personally," she added. "Perspectively, I stood to lose my voting rights, my position in the Senate of Virginia (where I am the the first Black Legislator and the first woman to serve as Senate President Pro Temp) and my business license, which would have cut off my livelihood."
Portsmouth Police Department officials declined to comment and referred questions to the city.
A city spokeswoman declined to say whether Greene's firing was a result of the initial charges.
The June 10 protest in Portsmouth, a majority-Black city across the Elizabeth River from Norfolk, came in the wake of national demonstrations against racial injustice calling for the removal of Confederate monuments and other divisive historic structures from public spaces. The death of George Floyd, a Black man, in police custody in Minneapolis in May focused renewed attention on such symbols.
At the Portsmouth protest, demonstrators managed to rip off the heads of some of the city's Confederate statues while toppling another statue, which police said fell on and critically injured a demonstrator.
When Greene, who is Black, later announced the charges, she said Lucas and others "conspired and organized to destroy the monument as well as summon hundreds of people to join in felonious acts."
According to the police version of events in a probable cause summary, Lucas was with a group of people who were shaking cans of spray paint, and she told police that they were going to vandalize the statues "and you can't stop them ... they got a right, go ahead!"
But a dismissal motion filed by the Portsmouth Commonwealth Attorney's Office said there was "no proper evidence" to support the charges that the plaintiffs' actions "rise to the level of felony destruction of property or conspiracy." Video from the scene and other digital evidence were also unreliable, according to the motion.
In dismissing the charges Monday, a judge also questioned why police went around local prosecutors to bring charges.
City leaders had initially questioned Greene's involvement in investigating the Confederate protest because of an unspecified conflict of interest. Local activists and clergy leaders called for her resignation or firing.
In September, Greene, who became police chief in 2019, took an indefinite leave of absence. Rallies were also held in her support.
On Monday morning, she held up a copy of her termination letter during a news conference.
"I believe I was wrongfully terminated for upholding the law and being retaliated against for sticking to my sworn oath that I swore to serve and protect my citizens, community and keeping my officers safe," she said.
Greene said city leaders did not provide a reason for her firing other than that she was an "at-will employee." She added that she planned to sue the city, saying law enforcement should be "able to protect the community and enforce the law without interference from political leaders."
City spokeswoman Dana Woodson confirmed in an email that Greene had been fired, but she declined to provide further comment, saying it was a "confidential, personnel matter."