What Is Going on in Portsmouth?

by Kerry Dougherty

Are there cities that are more dysfunctional than Portsmouth, Virginia?

Yes, of course there are.

There’s always San Francisco where you can get an app for your phone called “SnapCrap” to allow you to report piles of human feces to city sanitation workers.

There’s Chicago. The Windy City was recently designated the “rattiest” in America by Orkin. Lots of rodents there.

And there’s Seattle, which actually ceded city blocks to anarchists in the summer of 2020.

But you’ve got to hand it to Virginia’s “Old Port City,” which was once a bustling hub of commerce and charm. Now it’s competing for most boneheaded city in the U.S. where city and state officials trade lawsuits and accuse each other of vile motives.

While its school languish and its population shrinks, political rivals feud, sue and countersue each other.

Take, for example, Portsmouth City Council’s decision to reward 10 people who were arrested and charged with felonies in 2020 in connection with the vandalism of a 127-year-old Confederate monument. The charges against them were dismissed and now they’ll each get $15,000.

Attend a vandalism event and get a cash prize!

Here’s a description of what went down that day in June 2020:

The police – under orders by some unnamed “elected official,” according to The Virginian-Pilot – had been told to stand down. And so they did. As a consequence, an unruly mob armed with spray paint and swinging mallets swarmed all over the monument that has stood at the corner of High and Court Streets for 127 years.

The criminal charges were eventually dropped against these folks and their names were cleared, but that wasn’t the end of it. Those who’d been arrested lawyered up, saying their character and reputations had been damaged. According to WAVY TV-10, they sought $100,000 each, but settled for $15,000.

Odd, most of us hadn’t heard of the Portsmouth 10 until they filed this lawsuit.

So that’s $150,000 the cash-strapped city doesn’t have to spend on things like teachers or police officers or on security to prevent hooligans from defacing public property.

These weren’t BLM or Antifa members who were accused for a time of being involved in the defacing and beheading of the monument. They were members of Portsmouth’s power structure.

Judge Brenda Spry, Portsmouth Circuit Court

LaKeesha Atkinson, Vice-Chair, Portsmouth School Board

James Boyd, President, Portsmouth NAACP

Louie Gibbs, Vice President, Portsmouth NAACP

Lakesha K. Hicks, Vice President, Portsmouth NAACP

Amira Bethea, member, Portsmouth NAACP

Kim Wimbish, publicist, community activist

Alexandra Stephens, Portsmouth public defender

Dana Worthington, member, Portsmouth NAACP

Meredith Cramer, Portsmouth public defender

Prosecutors and police reportedly reviewed video footage of the rampage before charging a total of 19 people — including a powerful state senator — with crimes several months after the event. The police chief who was involved in the case was fired. And lawsuits are flying.

Several people charged called the charges racist, reports The Virginian-Pilot. They suggested the charges against State Sen. Louise Lucas, one of the state’s most prominent Black officials, were a thinly veiled attempt to intimidate someone who has pushed for police reform.

Lucas sued former Police Chief Angela Greene and Portsmouth Police Sgt. Kevin McGee over the charges taken out against her. Meanwhile, Greene has sued Lucas and several other officials for defamation. She’s also sued the city over her firing.

According to news reports, Former Public Defender Brenda Spry, who was elevated to the Circuit Court last winter by the General Assembly, sought enhanced compensation.

The Pilot reported that attorney Jason Dunn, who represented Spry, wanted $150,000 for his client.

Dunn, the attorney representing judge and former public defender Brenda Spry, argued the felony arrest would affect her career prospects. He noted her appointment to judge was by a one-vote margin in the General Assembly and said she may face issues because of the arrest if she seeks reappointment to the court.

That’s odd.

Spry had already been charged and cleared of the crimes BEFORE she was put on the bench. So why would the old arrests make a difference in her re-appointment in eight years?

Only in Portsmouth does any of this makes sense.

This column has been republished with permission from Kerry: Unemployed & Unedited.