The former police chief of Portsmouth, Va., on Monday claimed she was forced out by certain members of the force after she tried eradicating what she called a culture of “systemic racism and discriminatory practices” within the department.
“As with any organization, there were officers in the [Portsmouth Police] department that did not like my style of leadership and did not want me to hold them accountable for their actions,” ex-police chief Tonya Chapman wrote in a four-page statement. “Some quite frankly did not like taking direction from an African-American female.”
“I would contend that there were some politically connected individuals that never had confidence in me in the first place,” she added.
Chapman, the first African-American woman to lead a city police department in Virginia, was brought on in February 2016 and said she was well aware of the “external strife” between police and the community following a string of officer-involved shootings, according to her letter. However, Chapman wrote that racial tensions within the department became “blatantly” clear after a former white officer was convicted in the fatal shooting of a young Black man.
“Having been a member of two other law enforcement agencies, I have never witnessed the degree of bias and acts of systemic racism, discriminatory practices and abuse of authority in all of my almost 30 year career in law enforcement and public safety,” she wrote.
Chapman also alluded to incidents “so inflammatory” that she declined to make them public “out of concern for public safety,” but said she’d be willing to share the information with the “appropriate government entity.”
The letter comes just a week after the city announced that Chapman had resigned after just three years on the job, The Virginian-Pilot reported. The Monday press release gave no explanation for Chapman’s sudden departure and City Manager Lydia Pettis Patton has remained tight-lipped on the matter.
In her letter addressed to the “citizens of Portsmouth,” Chapman recalled her meeting with Pettis Patton on March 18, during which she says the city manager demanded her resignation and threatened to fire her if she didn’t. She said Pettis Patton offered her two months severance pay if she signed a pre-written resignation letter, which Chapman said she did “under duress.”
“I can assure you that I did not ‘quit’ on the citizens of Portsmouth,” the former police chief wrote. “My mother did not raise me to be a quitter. She raised me to be a strong woman. As such, my resignation was not tendered under my own volition. This was a forced resignation and our City Manager was the conduit.”
The city named Assistant Chief Angela Greene as the new Interim police chief shortly after Chapman’s resignation was announced. Now, members of Portsmouth’s NAACP branch are pressing city leaders on exactly why the seasoned officer was asked to step down.
Chapter president James Boyd spoke in support of the former police chief during a Monday press conference and echoed Chapman’s claims of systemic racism in the department, local station WAVY reported. Boyd argued that Chapman’s apparent ouster was a part what he called a pattern in Portsmouth of dismantling the city’s African-American leadership.
“This department has continued to perpetuate systemic racism, but now as a branch we’ve come here to encourage our people,” he told reporters Monday. “Don’t fall behind the pen of a city manager pay attention to the power of those who yield it. Pay attention to those that put pressure on her to make a decision to remove the police chief here in the city of Portsmouth.”
Former city Councilman Mark Whitaker also expressed disappointment with Chapman’s departure and said there wasn’t any type of survey done to show that the department had lost confidence in Chapman’s ability to lead.
“This was purely the complaint of a few individuals who have access to the council and executed their desire,” he told WAVY.
Council members and other city officials have declined to speak on Chapman’s resignation after being warned about possible litigation in the future, according to the news station.
In her statement, Chapman has asked the city to extend her severance payments to six months as well as give her a positive recommendation for future employment.
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