Police Chief Cultivated Conservative Fan Base After Charging Democrat With Dubious Felonies

Johnny Nguyen 16:30

Angela Greene has aligned herself with political opponents of the Virginia senator that the Portsmouth Police Department charged with felony offenses.

A suspended police chief in Virginia, who made the extraordinary decision to charge a state senator with felonies on the theory that her rhetoric inspired vandalism on a Confederate monument, has cultivated an active right-wing fan base over email and social media, a HuffPost investigation has found. This cadre of followers has cheered the charges against the senator, a Democrat who wants to increase scrutiny on law enforcement and had called for the police chief’s resignation.

Portsmouth Police Chief Angela Greene announced at an unusual press conference in August that her department had attempted to sideline the city’s elected prosecutor and gone straight to a magistrate judge to obtain felony warrants against Sen. Louise Lucas (D), local civil rights leaders and city public defenders for conspiring to cause “injury to” Portsmouth’s Confederate monument. A total of 19 defendants were charged.

Lucas, who had no role in the city government or authority over police officers, said that officers couldn’t arrest protesters who painted over the city’s monument to the Confederacy. Several hours later, some demonstrators beheaded four statues of Confederate soldiers and pulled one down, injuring a protester. Lucas has said she was there for about a half-hour and left around 2:45 p.m., while the monument didn’t come down until late into the evening.

Sergeant Kevin T. McGee of Portsmouth’s property crimes unit filed the charges, and stood behind Greene at a press conference where she announced them. He theorized that Lucas’ rhetoric on the afternoon of June 10 was part of a conspiracy to destroy the monuments, in violation of a 70-year-old state law that originally referred to the Civil War as the “War Between the States.” Greene previously praised McGee after he launched a political attack on Lucas and criticized the city’s public defenders, several of whom he’d later charge with felonies.

Greene, according to emails obtained by HuffPost through a public records request, took time to respond to those who were very excited to see felony charges against Lucas.

“I would love nothing more than to stay in Portsmouth and continue to serve my citizens and police officers!” Greene wrote to a supporter who had written that “there are lots of people out here who are 100% behind what you’re doing with the charges against Sen. Lucas.”

When another citizen wrote that Lucas had “blood on her hands,” Greene responded thanking the writer for her “words of encouragement and support.”

“The public support warms my heart,” Greene wrote in one email.

The idea to file felony charges against Sen. Lucas under Virginia’s monument statute, as well as the idea to file charges against Vice Mayor Lisa Lucas-Burke, Sen. Lucas’ daughter, were popularized online by Tim Anderson, a conservative attorney from Virginia Beach with a considerable social media following. 

And since her suspension, Greene has further aligned herself with Anderson and the movement he’s built online.

Anderson, whose law firm has more than 100,000 followers on Facebook, is a gun shop owner and lawyer whose practice focuses on restoring Second Amendment rights for citizens with felony convictions and bankruptcy. Just after the monument incident, Anderson started a petition to recall Lucas.

After Anderson suggested in a Facebook post and in a television interview that Lucas committed crimes by inciting a riot, Lucas sued him for $20 million.

Anderson said he doesn’t represent Greene, and he says doesn’t know what her politics are. At the time Lucas called on Greene to be fired after the Confederate monument’s destruction, Anderson said, he didn’t even know who Chief Greene was, only that he supported her for enforcing the law. 

They’ve since grown closer. Greene has appeared, via video call, at rallies Anderson has helped organize in her support, and is benefiting from a GoFundMe that Anderson has promoted.

At a rally in Greene’s support over the weekend, and with Greene’s children in attendance, Anderson said that Portsmouth officials “have no authority to tell the chief of police to stand down,” and said Greene had no conflict and was just enforcing the law.

“The chief of police is the quarterback of the city,” Anderson said. “This is law and order. Either we have law and order, or we don’t.”

Anderson told HuffPost in an interview he’s not sure exactly what role his Facebook videos had on the investigation against Lucas.

“What the police did, or what influence my videos may have had on them, I don’t know,” Anderson said. Anderson said that he “may have talked to” McGee “one time in passing” when he was talking to officers who were at the scene of the destruction of the monuments, but not after the case opened. (HuffPost, as part of a broad records request to the city of Portsmouth, sought emails that Greene or McGee may have exchanged with Anderson. The city withheld a large number of documents, but it’s not clear if any of the withheld emails were communications with Anderson.) 

A City Government In Chaos

When HuffPost suggested that charging a politician for her rhetoric raised major First Amendment concerns, Anderson said Lucas’ suit (which he said has already cost him $40,000 in legal fees) also raised First Amendment issues.

“Did I cause her $20 million in damages to her political career because I alleged that she committed a crime? Give me a break, it’s just insane,” Anderson said. “If you could plug that in in some capacity and then misquote me on everything else, I’ll be good,” he joked. “A citizen shouldn’t be getting sued by a senator for trying to recall her.”

The decision to charge Lucas and the other civil rights leaders has thrown the entire city government into chaos. Greene was later suspended by Portsmouth’s city manager, Lydia Pettis Patton, who said Greene informed her that she had a conflict of interest in the case. Days later, Pettis Patton retired ahead of a meeting of the majority white city council, which appears to support Greene, in which they were likely to vote to oust the city manager. White members of the council also voted to fire the Black city attorney.

Lucas is the highest-ranking Black female politician in the state of Virginia. Greene is also a Black woman, and replaced former Portsmouth Police Chief Tonya Chapman, who was the first Black female police chief in Virginia history and said she encountered a racist culture in the city police department. 

Portsmouth is a majority Black city, but its police force is mostly white. In Portsmouth, as in many other police departments around the country, that racial gap has been a recipe for disaster. McGee, sources told HuffPost, was one of Chapman’s most prominent detractors, but has aligned himself closely with Greene, who has gained the support of white cops. 

Greene once suggested she was concerned about McGee’s letter, telling Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales, the city’s elected prosecutor, that she would “definitely have a conversation with” McGee over inaccurate statements in the letter, and even claiming she’d refer the letter to the department’s internal affairs unit. But in reality, she’d already praised McGee for the letter attacking Lucas, telling him his words had “touched my heart,” that a “mere thank you is not enough,” and referring to him as “family.” 

Greene remains suspended, with her fate in the hands of the city’s interim manager. The city has a strong city manager system that limits the direct power of the city council. One citizen even obtained misdemeanor charges against Lucas’ daughter Lucas-Burke after she publicly called for Greene’s firing (a charge that also raises glaring First Amendment issues).

Anderson said he isn’t troubled by the notion that police officers were biased against those they charged.

“Really, if we’re being truthful, don’t all police have prejudice when they go into a case ― I mean doesn’t a cop walk into a crime scene and think ‘Yeah, this guy did it’ and then they go out and they investigate to figure out if they’re right, or they figure out if they’re not?” Anderson asked. “We don’t live in a world where police are 100% neutral when they come into an investigation. So to say that he had some prejudice because he believed a crime was committed, that doesn’t conflict an officer out from doing their job.”

HuffPost asked Anderson, a supporter of President Donald Trump, whether he had any reservations about a law enforcement bureaucrat with clearly expressed political biases pursuing criminal charges against his political enemy.

“If it was a situation that did not occur in broad daylight, recorded on body camera video, and it’s very clear what everyone said and did, sure, I think you could probably walk down that a little bit,” Anderson said. “Did people commit crimes under Virginia law? And I think the answer to that is absolutely yes.”

Anderson conceded that the people who helped destroy the monument probably weren’t aware there was a specific statute on the books that protected monuments with harsher penalties.

“I really don’t think anybody woke up on that morning thinking ‘Hey, I’m going to go screw my life up.’ I think that’s probably a true thing. But what would not have happened, I don’t think, is I don’t think that the crowd would have swelled up to the level that it did, and I don’t think the people would have been banging on the monument with sledgehammers and doing all that if Sen. Lucas wouldn’t have come out there and told people they weren’t going to get arrested,” Anderson said. “I think that was the catalyst behind the rest of the day.”

“It’s not the police’s fault that this happened, it’s the senator’s fault for rallying everybody up,” Anderson said.

Anderson, at the rally and in his interview with HuffPost, bristled at the suggestion that the attacks on Lucas were because of her race. “It’s racist this, it’s racist that, everything is racist when you get in trouble,” Anderson said at the rally.

When asked why he trusted Chief Greene but not her highly decorated predecessor ― who did think there were major racial issues in Portsmouth’s police force ― Anderson said you have to look at Chapman’s motives.

“I think Chapman gets fired, and then she starts yelling racism,” Anderson said. “If there was some systemic, like, ‘good ol’ white boy’ network in the city of Portsmouth, I don’t think Angela would’ve thrived in the 18 months that she was chief of police.”

An extensive investigation by The Virginian-Pilot this month unveiled “an entrenched racist culture that hurts female and minority officers and the predominantly Black community alike.” HuffPost heard similar stories about a racist culture inside the Portsmouth Police Department, and Virginia Del. Don Scott (D), who is representing Lucas, said the city’s residents are “being controlled by a hostile force.”

But Anderson said that the officers he’s spoken to “seem to adore” Greene and talked about how morale hasn’t been better. When asked if he spoke to any Black officers, he demurred.

“There’s not that many Black officers in the city of Portsmouth,” Anderson said. “There’s not that many officers in the city of Portsmouth,” he added, noting that lower pay made the positions less attractive than other law enforcement agencies in the region.

A Largely White, Disgruntled Police Force

Greene, of course, had plenty of personal motivations to target Lucas. The powerful politician had indeed called for Greene’s ouster because, Lucas said, the chief failed to intervene and stop people from bringing sledgehammers to the Confederate monument which posed a public safety hazard and left a man seriously injured. Lucas had also previously suggested that Greene was one of several Black officials who served as “puppets for the people really in charge” in Portsmouth. “The racist[s] always co-ops Black folk to do their bidding for them,” Lucas told a local news station last year. “I do not have use for spineless people.”

But there’s something else that might’ve been on her mind when she allowed her officers to bypass Portsmouth’s elected prosecutor and make their unusual cases against their ideological opponents: appeasing a disgruntled, largely white workforce that worked to help take down her predecessor.

Greene’s bodycam video from hours before the monument’s destruction captures her discussion with Sen. Lucas and Vice Mayor Lucas-Burke as well as protesters spray-painting the city’s monument to the Confederacy. It also captures ― moments after Greene’s discussion with Sen. Lucas that the Portsmouth Police Department would later claim amounted to a felony criminal conspiracy ― Greene having a casual chat with a white cop on Portsmouth’s police force.

Nearly a decade ago, former Portsmouth Officer Steve Rankin killed an unarmed cook who was a native of Kazakhstan. On Rankin’s Facebook page, he made posts glorifying violence, and even posted an image of a lynching with the caption “Love is ... Doing whatever is necessary.”

Law enforcement supporters in Portsmouth rallied to the officer’s defense. “I support Steve Rankin,” Mike Siniscalchi told the Virginian-Pilot at the time. “The men and women of this Police Department do an excellent job with maintaining quality of life here in this city, and Steve Rankin is one of those individuals.”

A few years later, Rankin killed another unarmed man. This time it was a Black teen, 18-year-old William Chapman II. Commonwealth’s Attorney Morales put Rankin on trial, and he was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to two and a half years.

Now, in 2020, Portsmouth Police Officer Mike Siniscalchi was talking to Chief Greene. He was upset.

“I just want you to know something. Yesterday, I was this close to going ahead to writing up a resignation letter,” Siniscalchi told Greene, as protesters spray-painted the monument in the background. “I’ve been going through a lot ... just this country burning, ideology.”

But God sent him an angel, Siniscalchi told Greene. He was sticking around, for now. Still, he had lots of concerns he wanted to talk to the chief about, and he thought a lot of officers felt the same way. Like Sergeant McGee, Siniscalchi was upset with his ideological opponents. Something needed to change.

As they talked, Greene realized her body camera was still running. She tried, and failed, to turn it off herself. Siniscalchi showed her just what she should do.

Additional reporting by Roque Planas.

Note: The city of Portsmouth also withheld a large number of emails that fell within the scope of HuffPost’s public records request. Among the Greene emails withheld: 47 emails containing “criminal investigative files,” 64 emails containing “advice of legal counsel to state, regional or local public bodies or the officers or employees of such public bodies, and any other information protected by the attorney-client privilege,” and eight emails in possession of the Virginia Fusion Intelligence Center. Among the McGee emails withheld: 33 “criminal investigative file” emails and eight emails in possession of the Virginia Fusion Intelligence Center.

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