Lexington hires first female police chief

The statues on the Confederate monument are covered in graffiti and beheaded after a protest in Portsmouth, Va., Wednesday, June 10, 2020. Protesters beheaded and then pulled down four statues that were part of a Confederate monument. (Kristen Zeis/The Virginian-Pilot via AP, File)

By Crawford Humphreys

As Portsmouth’s police chief, Angela Greene found herself at the center of international attention last year when she insisted on pursuing criminal charges against 19 people involved in a Black Lives Matter protest that resulted in the beheadings of several Confederate soldier statues.

Three months later, she was fired. Beginning May 10, she will become Lexington’s first female police chief, and its first woman of color.

Lexington City Manager Jim Halasz said he asked Greene about what had happened in Portsmouth.

“She carefully analyzed, from my conversations with her, what her options were,” he said. “She swore an oath to enforce the law and she felt that that oath was more important than the risks she faced.”

Mayor Frank Friedman said he believes Greene got caught up in local government politics. Portsmouth is a predominantly African American city, but most members of its city council at the time were white.

“I think what transpired in Portsmouth was more a political circumstance … which I’ve seen happen to a variety of other municipal professionals,” Friedman said. “You just get on the wrong side of a council or an electorate, and you’re out of a job.”

“When you look at the situation she was in and you’re looking at it from a law enforcement perspective, and then you look at the video of the destruction of that property, I can understand her initial reaction. The bottom line is that she was looking at it from a perspective of law enforcement and doing her job.” – Council Member Marylin Alexander

Last June 10, protesters descended on Portsmouth’s Confederate monument, which stood in the middle of an intersection in the city’s downtown area. The monument was a large obelisk surrounded by four Confederate soldier statues. The protest was a part of a wave of protests across the country in response to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

The protesters reportedly began spray painting the monument in the afternoon, covering it in references to Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. The Virginian-Pilot reported that protesters beheaded the four statues in the evening before trying to topple one of them. A protester was hit in the head and injured when protesters used a rope to pull down one of the statues.

Last Aug. 17, Greene announced that protesters had been charged with felony injury to a monument and conspiracy. The defendants included state Sen. L. Louise Lucas, D-18th District, the president and vice-president of the Portsmouth NAACP, and several public defenders.

Lexington Council Member Marylin Alexander says Greene’s handling of the protest was justifiable.

“When you look at the situation she was in and you’re looking at it from a law enforcement perspective, and then you look at the video of the destruction of that property, I can understand her initial reaction,” she said. “The bottom line is that she was looking at it from a perspective of law enforcement and doing her job.”

The Lexington Police Department serves just over 7,000 Lexington residents, a small population compared to Portsmouth’s 95,000. (Mary Alice Russell photo)

But the charges filed against the protesters reportedly surprised Portsmouth’s city attorney and city manager. On Sept. 4, then-City Manager Lydia Pettis Patton placed Greene on administrative leave.

A Richmond judge dismissed the charges against all defendants on Nov. 16. Later that day, Greene was fired. She called a news conference and announced plans to file a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city.

Before her stint in Portsmouth, Greene was a member of the Richmond Police Department for almost 15 years.

Lexington is much smaller than the other two Virginia cities where Greene worked. There are 7,241 people living in Lexington, compared to 95,097 people in Portsmouth and 226,622 people living in Richmond. Over 80% of Lexington’s residents are white, compared to Richmond and Portsmouth, which are predominantly African American.

Greene will replace Mike Frost, who served as Lexington’s interim chief since last October.