A police sergeant in Portsmouth, Virginia, who circumvented local prosecutors to bring highly unusual “injury to a monument” felony charges against a state senator, public defenders and NAACP members previously called the lawmaker’s criticism of his police chief “disgusting” and “repulsive.”
Sgt. Kevin T. McGee of the Portsmouth Police Department’s property crimes unit brought felony charges against 14 people in connection with June 10 damage to a Confederate monument, according to his probable cause summary filed with a magistrate.
The defendants include Louise Lucas, the Democratic Virginia Senate president pro tempore. Lucas previously called on Portsmouth Police Chief Angela Greene to resign because, Lucas said, Greene “abdicated her responsibility to maintain peace and failed to uphold the law” after protesters knocked down a Confederate statue and seriously injured a demonstrator in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.
McGee didn’t like Sen. Lucas’ criticism of his chief. In June, he fired off a heated letter to Portsmouth’s mayor, city council and city manager, saying it was “absolutely disgusting and offensive” to “attempt to place blame on Chief Greene or the men and women of the Portsmouth Police Department or to continue to try to use us as pawns on their political agenda” in connection with protests in which four Confederate statues were beheaded and one was torn down. The city council later voted unanimously to remove the Confederate monument, which was located at a site where enslaved Black Americans were publicly punished on a whipping post.
“Chief Greene and the members of the Portsmouth Police Department prevented property damage, saved lives, and put the City of Portsmouth in a position to make positive change,” McGee wrote in the day after the destruction. He said that the chief “is the only thing holding this department together” and that Lucas “gave protesters the green light to do whatever they wanted to do.” Lucas was on the scene of the protest before the destruction, and said police couldn’t arrest protesters for trespassing on city property or for painting a monument honoring treasonous defenders of slavery.
“For a Senator to try to inject any of us into her agenda is repulsive,” McGee wrote in his letter. “If Senator Lucas wants to place blame on anyone for this incident, she should start by looking in the mirror.”
On Monday, two months later, McGee stood behind his police chief at a press conference as she announced felony charges against Lucas, leaders of the local NAACP, and several city public defenders.
McGee, in an email to HuffPost early Thursday, said his June letter was sent in his “capacity as a private citizen” at a time when he wasn’t involved in any investigation into the events. “This department, including myself, conduct all investigations without bias and only present the facts as they are found,” McGee wrote in his email to HuffPost.
McGee’s probable cause summary ― obtained by HuffPost despite the Portsmouth Police Department’s refusal to publicly release it ― theorizes that Lucas and others participated in a conspiracy to “injure” the monument, even though many of those charged appear to have left long before the most serious damage took place. Lucas, who had no formal authority over the police but whose daughter Lisa Lucas-Burke is the city’s vice mayor, allegedly told police at the time that they couldn’t arrest people who painted the statue.
“No state or local elected official, or any other person or entity had any legal authority to direct or allow any citizen to go upon, damage, or deface the monument,” McGee wrote in his probable cause statement.
Public defenders, who McGee also charged, didn’t escape criticism in the sergeant’s June letter. When protesters started bringing out sledgehammers, he wrote, public defenders “left after they lit the fuse and they had their photo op.” McGee also criticized Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales, claiming that protesters had told him that the progressive prosecutor wouldn’t press charges.
“I do not know for sure if the Commonwealth Attorney told the protesters she would not prosecute them or not, but I have a pretty good idea,” McGee wrote. “I also have a pretty good idea what would happen had one police officer used force to attempt to stop the protesters and what the reaction of some of the elected officials including the Commonwealth Attorney would have been if we attempted to intervene.”
Morales’ office said in a previous statement that it would evaluate charges on a case-by-case basis, and that police never presented an investigative file. Brenda Spry, the city’s top public defender who was among those charged, previously said that any blanket statements attributed to public defenders about how Morales’ office would handle cases was “based purely upon personal assumptions or opinions.”
McGee ― who listed Morales as a witness in what appears to be an attempt to disqualify her from acting as prosecutor in the case ― complained in his June letter to the city that officers across the nation had “been charged with crimes without due process,” for their actions during anti-racism protests.
Legal experts expressed shock at the lack of due process McGee and the police department afforded those slapped with felonies. Virginia officers usually secure warrants in the immediate aftermath of an incident, not months down the line.
Steven Benjamin, an attorney in Richmond who used to head the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, told The Washington Post the charges were extraordinary. “This is the sort of case that should have been charged, if at all, only after consultation with the commonwealth’s attorney and the presentment of indictments to a grand jury,” he said.
University of Virginia School of Law professor Darryl Brown told the Washingtonian that the charges against Lucas were “a very aggressive law enforcement decision, and one unlikely to result in a conviction.”
City officials made clear they were blindsided by the charges Greene announced on Monday. City Manager L. Pettis Patton wrote in an email to the mayor and city council that Greene had previously informed her that she had a conflict of interest in the investigation. Patton wrote that she was “surprised and troubled” when she learned investigators were still working on the cases and swearing out warrants.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Steering Committee held a press conference in Portsmouth to denounce the charges on Wednesday. Vice Mayor Lucas-Burke, Sen. Lucas’ daughter, condemned the charges as leaders called for Greene’s resignation.
“The city manager knew nothing about it and the city attorney knew nothing about it. Nobody knows nothing about it. Who’s running the goddamn city?” Lucas-Burke asked. “I don’t know who to trust.”
Virginia Del. Don Scott (D), who is Lucas’ defense lawyer, said people trying to hold Black leaders back were trying to “weaponize the criminal punishment system against Black leadership.” He said police didn’t step in when things got dangerous and abandoned their duty.
“What were the police doing at that time? They were there the entire time! They were there from the beginning to the end, they should be arresting them damn selves for dereliction of duty,” Scott said.
Scott and other Black leaders want the federal government or the state attorney general to investigate the city’s police.
“They are extremely corrupt. They have lost the ability to police us. We don’t think they care about our community or our concerns,” Scott said. “They’re up here spending all their energy trying to figure out how they can keep Black voices down, in a majority Black city. Not this time.”
Public defender Spry, who McGee accused of painting the monument, said in an email to HuffPost through her attorney that the country “is now beginning to recognize the disparate impact African Americans face with respect to police accountability and racial prejudice.”
Spry said she’s “an advocate who has zealously devoted the last 31 years of my life to representing indigent citizens, primarily African Americans, charged with criminal offenses in the city of Portsmouth.” While she wouldn’t discuss the charges, she said the Confederate statute was “an overt ‘badge and incident’ to the most shameful and disgusting institution of slavery and American racism.”
Lucas-Burke said that the charges against her mother and others fit into a larger backlash against Black women in America.
“This is not really just about the monument, this is about the rise of the Black woman that is happening with Kamala Harris,” Lucas-Burke said. “Even though people try to stop us and they try to silence our voice, there will be many more Black woman who will rise up behind us.”
Read McGee’s probable cause summary below.