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Chief magistrate declines to file criminal charges against 2 Portsmouth councilmen, as requested by mayor

The region's chief magistrate said he didn't have probable cause to move forward with claims by Mayor Shannon Glover against two city councilmen, documents show.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — Mayor Shannon Glover attempted to file criminal charges against two Portsmouth city councilmembers, but a local magistrate said he could not find probable cause, according to documents. 

There is no hiding the tension among Portsmouth City Council leaders since the firing of former city manager Angel Jones. In May, a council majority voted 4-3 to terminate Jones, which has been followed by weeks of drama and accusations. 

Now, records show Glover went to the Portsmouth Magistrate's Office to file misdemeanor charges against Vice Mayor De'Andre Barnes and Councilman Dr. Mark Whitaker on May 31, one week after the pair voted to fire Jones.

13NewsNow obtained a copy of Glover's complaint and a June 2 response by Norfolk Chief Magistrate Ryan McLaughlin. 

The complaint shows Glover accused Whitaker of violating the authority of the city manager by discussing and negotiating a grant with the Portsmouth Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Bracy and division staff. 

Glover alleged Whitaker interfered with negotiations that resulted in $1 million of taxpayer money being set aside for the Officer of Minority and Women Business Enterprise Pilot Program, the complaint reads. 

The document reveals Glover also accused Whitaker of interfering with a legal settlement by sharing discussions made in closed session. 

In terms of Barnes, Glover alleged the city's vice mayor communicated directly with the Portsmouth Parks and Recreation director about using facilities and not paying for services, the document shows. 

Glover also claimed Barnes negotiated directly with the school superintendent on the use of school facilities for a youth sports program while receiving payments from parents of children in the organization.   

In the written complaint, Glover argued Barnes has an organization that receives a financial benefit from services by the city government, which Glover said violates city rules.

Glover argued the alleged actions violated the city provision that calls for misdemeanor charges and the removal of the council person from his or her elected position. 

But McLaughlin declined to file any criminal charges, stating Glover did not provide evidence that Whitaker or Barnes violated city code or charter, according to a copy of his response to Glover. 

“I do not find probable cause exists to issue the criminal charges you requested on the evidence presented,” McLaughlin wrote.  

McLaughlin ended his letter by referring to a prior case involving elected officials in Portsmouth, that suggested investigations into criminal violations by an elected official be initiated by a request from the governor, attorney general or a grand jury. 

This week, a spokesperson for the Virginia attorney general's office confirmed Glover also filed a complaint with them, and there is an ongoing investigation into his claims. 

As of Thursday, Mayor Glover did not provide a statement to 13News Now. Barnes, Whitaker and a Portsmouth Public Schools spokesperson, Lauren Nolasco, provided statements in response to the magistrate's decision. Those statements are listed below: 

Statement by Portsmouth City Vice Mayor De'Andre Barnes:

"I'm happy to see that the truth about our Mayor has come to light, but I'm saddened to see that the lies from him continue to take place. The political games have to stop and it's time to stop putting ourselves first, and put the citizens first. Mayor Glover doesn't want to build relationships among council, he wants division so he can play in the hearts and minds of vulnerable citizens. The lies that he continues to spread about certain council members have created a division in our city, forcing both groups of supporters to pick a side when we should only be picking Portsmouth. Not only has he created a division among council, but now it has spread to our school board. I would like to personally apologize to our school system, and my only hope is that it doesn't stop the progress and hurt the relationship that we have built since this council has been in office." 

Statement by Portsmouth City Councilman Dr. Mark Whitaker: 

“By recklessly filing criminal charges against fellow Council members based on false and misleading information, Mayor Shannon Glover has committed a grave disservice to the Portsmouth community and has evoked, once again, the prevalent use of the criminal justice system against African-American elected officials in Portsmouth.”

Whitaker went on to say, "With the statement from the Norfolk Magistrate, the School System and video of the Councilwoman Lucas-Burke after the June 14th Council meeting, the false and misleading statements by Lucas-Burke that roused the public into anger and recall have now been proven to be lies. Therefore, the recall is based on malicious deception created by Mayor Glover and Councilwoman Lucas-Burke." 

Statement by Portsmouth Public Schools spokesperson Lauren Nolasco: 

"As the school division shared last week, these accusations are false and based on inaccurate information.

The M/WBE grant program the mayor is referencing is to be funded by a state grant, and there are no local funds (including school division funds) used to support it. This spring, at a scheduled meeting between liaisons of the School Board and City Council, it was discussed whether the school division would be able to independently support the program should the grant not be included in the state’s finalized budget this year. The superintendent shared, at that meeting, that would not be possible.

Secondly, in regards to the youth sports programs, that is managed solely by the City of Portsmouth’s Parks and Recreation Department - not the school division. As in years past, the school division works with Parks and Recreation to allow the use of school facilities to support the program. However, the only payment that the school division receives is for the custodial services provided.

The mayor had not spoken to any school division officials, including the superintendent or School Board chairman, about these concerns before filing the complaint. However, the mayor has since reached out to both to apologize for negatively implicating the school division." 

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