Experts weigh in on conflict of interest issue in Portsmouth Confederate statue investigation

Posted at 3:41 PM, Aug 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-21 18:07:40-04

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — The recent back and forth between police, city and community leaders has been escalating since Monday.

The latest development comes as Portsmouth Chief of Police Angela Greene claims she was well within her rights to investigate the June 10 protest at the Confederate monument on Court Street despite the city manager claiming she had a known conflict of interest.

Greene responded to the accusation that she shouldn’t have been involved in an investigation of the defacing of the the monument by saying her agency had a sworn duty to investigate “until an actual conflict arose. “

In an email sent Thursday, Greene wrote that during the agency’s investigation, no conflicts of interest for her department were revealed and it was incumbent upon the agency to take action.

Richard James— retired Norfolk Police officer, retired criminal justice professor and Chairman of Legal redress for the Norfolk NAACP Branch weighed in as someone who has also worked closely with both Greene and Senator Louise Lucas who is charged with a felony in the case.

“Eliminating conflicts of interest ensures fundamental fairness in the process and or outcomes in a particular controversy between parties that’s why it’s important to identify if there’s a conflict of interest or not,” said James.

James says he has not spoken to either Greene or Lucas, but has been watching closely as events unfold.

“If I feel there is an appearance of a conflict then I have a duty to recluse myself. If I’m not sure there’s a conflict then I need another party which from a governmental perspective would be the city attorney or their designee to determine whether I have a conflict or not,” said James.

James says conflicts of interest—whether they are real or even just perceived to be conflicts— undermine the decision makers neutrality.

If someone questions me about a perceived conflict it would probably be right for me to say ‘I don’t know the person in the controversy, I haven’t had any conversations with a person in the controversy, haven’t done any past business dealings with that particular person, [or] I know they’re members of a community, but there is no personal or working relationship with that person of interest.’”

Green goes on to say in her statement there was an initial belief that “a potential conflict involving elected city officials, who were present at the time, may arise.”

The admission supports City Manager Dr. L. Pettis Patton’s email to council members Wednesday explaining she is “surprised and troubled” arrest warrants were issued for Sen. Lucas and 13 others Mondays.

Virginia Beach attorney Moody (Sonny) Stallings says a judge will have to decide if there is a real or perceived conflict.

“Just because a particular officer may have some bias against the defendant doesn’t mean the warrant is invalid, it may go to the motive of why they did it, it may go to the weight of the evidence,” said Stallings.

Stallings legal opinion is if there was probable cause to issue the arrest warrant, then the cases will go to go to trial.

“I really haven’t seen in 43 years where I conflict of interest by a policeman invalidated the warrant but it could happen, I mean it is Portsmouth,” Stallings.

Related: Portsmouth Confederate statue turmoil: How city leaders became pitted against police