Black Female Police Chief in Virginia Fired After Aggressively Investigating and Prosecuting Mob Violence

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Posted: Nov 20, 2020 10:45 AM
Black Female Police Chief in Virginia Fired After Aggressively Investigating and Prosecuting Mob Violence

This story out of Virginia is really quite something. If I'm understanding it correctly, it very much appears as though the city's (Black, female) police chief was placed on administrative leave and then fired as retaliation for her investigation and attempted prosecution of criminal activity related to "Black Lives Matter" protests in the wake of George Floyd's killing. The only attempt at a justification for the firing I've found is that perhaps she was overzealous in the charges she pursued, and even that critique is disputable. There is also "an unspecified conflict of interest" that has not been established or expounded upon. Her real supposed transgression, it would appear, is that she sought to hold prominent people accountable for illegal acts -- resulting in punishment for her because said prominent people believe, apparently correctly, that they're above the law. Via NBC News:

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. 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.  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!"  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.

Someone was badly hurt during the melee, which is one of the many reasons mob rule is dangerous. I'm no fan of Confederate statues and monuments, but there's a legal method for determining how and where they should be displayed. Criminal mobs must not be allowed to wreak havoc and destroy property with impunity. Notice how Sen. Lucas does not seem to be proclaiming her innocence, rather spitting fire at the very notion that she'd face consequences for her alleged actions:

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."

The "scandal," you see, was a police leader pursuing charges against well-known community members for their alleged participation in lawless mob action. Lucas appears to believe that her senior status as a Black legislator is a prima facie defense against the charges and that any ramifications for her actions would be unjustly detrimental to her "rights" and career. Also notable is the city's lack of denials that the police chief's firing was retribution for the charges: "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 New York Times offers additional details, like this supposed legal reasoning behind prosecutors abandoning the charges:

On Monday, a judge granted a request by the Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office to dismiss all charges against the defendants. The commonwealth’s attorney, Stephanie Morales, noted in the request that inaction by the police during the June 10 episode most likely led protesters to believe that the monument had effectively been abandoned by the city and that protesters acted with a reasonable belief that city law enforcement officials had given implicit endorsement to their actions. Ms. Morales also noted that it was unclear whether the monument was owned by the City of Portsmouth or by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Police not physically stopping protesters or rioters from engaging in property destruction led to a "reasonable belief" that law enforcement had bestowed an "implicit endorsement" upon illegal activity. That's a totally untenable standard. Also, I fail to understand how the ownership of the monuments impacts the illegality of anyone else destroying them. Chief Greene's attorney sounds like someone who may be mulling a wrongful termination suit:

Thomas K. Plofchan Jr., a lawyer representing Ms. Greene, said in an interview on Tuesday that his client had done her job at the highest level of competence on June 10, but was placed on administrative leave in early September as retaliation for the felony charges being filed. Mr. Plofchan said Ms. Greene was still trying to resolve any issues the city might have had with her and retain her job, but was instead fired at 8:30 a.m. Monday. “When Ms. Greene asked why she was terminated, she was told they didn’t have to give a reason because she was an at-will employee,” Mr. Plofchan said. “We have a highly educated African-American police chief who was doing her job, and politics is getting in the way.” Mr. Plofchan also pushed back on the idea that it was unusual for a police officer to file felony charges directly with a magistrate for property crimes and not consult with the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office beforehand, saying it was a routine practice. Ms. Greene, he said, was “singled out and made to be the scapegoat in this situation.”

Their explanation for her firing was, essentially, "because we can." Here's a local news package on the firing, in which Chief Greene says law enforcement lack of action during the incident itself -- which prosecutors are citing as a reason vandals' behavior was "endorsed" -- was, in fact, an order from above. She also alleged that she was told to stand down in her subsequent investigation, saying that details will be revealed in a lawsuit:

There may be facts lurking beneath the surface of this controversy, but it'll be interesting to see how this plays out, if and when Greene challenges her dismissal.