The first black woman to lead a city police department in Virginia said Monday that she was forced out, calling herself “no quitter” and accusing a small group of officers of “bias and acts of systemic racism, discriminatory practices and abuse of authority.”
Tonya Chapman released a four-page statement a week after her abrupt resignation. It says her attempts to change the culture consistently were met with resistance from some people within the Portsmouth Police Department, some of whom “quite frankly did not like taking direction from an African American female.”
Despite working closely with the city manager during her three-year tenure, Chapman says the city manager made her resign “under duress” and without warning.
City Manager L. Pettis Patton did not immediately return calls Monday seeking comment. “There will be no comment as this is a personnel matter,” said Dana Woodson, a spokesperson for the city.
City Councilor Elizabeth Psimas said in an email that council members can’t comment on city employee personnel matters.
Chapman said the city manager told her that if she signed a pre-written resignation letter, she would receive two months of severance pay, but if she did not, she would be terminated. She said she is asking the city to extend her severance pay to six months and to give her a positive letter of recommendation.
Portsmouth, with a population of nearly 100,000 people, is about 52 percent black. Home to a large Navy medical center and a sprawling shipyard, it sits across the Elizabeth River from Norfolk and is a short drive to the Atlantic Coast.
Chapman said she could not provide additional information about her forced resignation but suggested it was driven by “members of a highly influential fraternal organization” who had tried unsuccessfully for more than two years to generate a vote of “no confidence” in her. She said some of those people were recently disciplined for policy violations.
Sgt. Matthew Crutcher, president of the Portsmouth Fraternal Order of Police, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Chapman said she knew running the police department would be a challenge but became acutely aware of racial tensions within the ranks after a former officer was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the 2015 shooting of a black man.
Officer Stephen Rankin shot and killed William Chapman II outside a Walmart. The 18-year-old was unarmed and had been suspected of shoplifting. Rankin, who is white, claimed self-defense, saying Chapman knocked away his stun gun and charged at him.
“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. She said she is reluctant to speak publicly about what she witnessed “out of concern for public safety,” but said she is willing to share specific information with the “appropriate government entity.”
James Boyd, president of the Portsmouth chapter of the NAACP, said his group will respond at a 6 p.m. Monday news conference. Last week, Boyd said Chapman is the latest victim of what he calls a systemically racist police force.
Chapman’s statement also included a list of crime reduction statistics and community engagement initiatives during her tenure.