Former Va. police chief says she was forced to resign

The former police chief says she was forced to resign after attempting to change the department's culture bias and systemic racism


Robyn Sidersky
The Virginian-Pilot

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — Former Portsmouth Police Chief Tonya Chapman said in a statement this morning that she was forced to resign after attempting to change the department's culture of bias and systemic racism.

"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," Chapman wrote in the four-page statement.

Tonya Chapman (Photo / Portsmouth Police Department)
Tonya Chapman (Photo / Portsmouth Police Department)

After a former officer was convicted of shooting a young black man, she wrote, "internal strife to include racial tensions within the police department became blatantly apparent to me."

In the letter, Chapman describes "external strife" between the community and the police department, saying she "knew the difficult task ahead" of her but was "up for the challenge."

"Some quite frankly did not like taking direction from an African American female," she wrote, contending there were "some politically connected individuals that never had confidence in me in the first place."

Chapman abruptly resigned on March 18 after more than three years on the job. The announcement of her exit was sent via a city spokesperson with little explanation. Questions have swirled for days.

"I assure you I did not 'quit' on the citizens of Portsmouth," Chapman wrote. "My mother did not raise me to be a quitter."

She wrote that City Manager Lydia Pettis Patton asked for her resignation and said if she did not sign a pre-written letter of resignation, she would terminate her. She said she was offered two months pay.

"Citizens of Portsmouth, I ask you, if I had done anything to warrant my immediate dismissal, would I have been offered a severance?" she wrote.

In the statement she asks the department to extend her severance to six months and give her a positive recommendation for future employment. She wrote that she found success in her time with the department, citing statistics including a 52-percent drop in homicides in 2016.

"My goal was to develop a highly ethical, high performing organization that embraces diversity and treats everyone with respect and dignity," she wrote.

Chapman became Portsmouth's police chief in February 2016, becoming the first black woman to lead any city police force in the state. Assistant Chief Angela Greene was named interim chief, effective as soon as Chapman stepped down. She declined to comment through a police spokesperson.

Representatives from the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the Portsmouth Chapter of the NAACP both said immediately following the news that they had heard that Chapman was forced to resign.

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©2019 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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