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Portsmouth Commonwealth's Attorney: 'Finger pointing' over crime isn't making city any safer

Stephanie Morales is responding to Portsmouth's police chief and mayor, who suggested offenders are released too easily by the court system.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — Author's note: The video above is on file from June 7, 2022.

There’s a lot of frustration over the rising gun violence in Portsmouth, but City Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales said she’s not interested in pointing fingers over crime. 

“I don’t engage in finger-pointing," Morales said. "I know that our community isn’t engaged in finger-pointing because that doesn’t make us any safer."

After 12 shootings across Portsmouth in seven days, Portsmouth Police Chief Renado Prince released the names and photos of five people wanted by police. 

He said police officers arrested all of these men before, but they’re back out in the community.

"The question is, why are they still in our streets after being arrested by police departments across Hampton Roads? That’s one of our major issues," Prince said on Tuesday.

When asked if he was suggesting the courts are to blame for granting bail or not bringing people to trial sooner, Prince said: “I can’t say it’s the courts but something in our system is not working right. I’m not trying to shift blame, but the police departments, we’re doing our part. We’re the ones that arrest people who violate the law. That’s our primary function, regardless of what anyone else might say, and we’re doing that. But we still see these people on the streets.”

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Today, Portsmouth mayor Shannon Glover agreed offenders should not be released so easily. 

"This is a problem in terms of the court and the legal system and how they handle these situations. It's really out of our control," Glover said. "It's important that all of those entities work together to ensure that those who are arrested on serious offenses are not able to be released so easily." 

But Morales pointed out, none of the men in the photos Prince released are wanted for murder; and police have not released any suspect information for recent murders in the city, including Tuesday's quadruple shooting on Maple Avenue.

“The murders that we’ve seen over the past two days, a good number of those, there have been no suspects identified for those murders," Morales said. "So people are also confused to about the faces and the names that they’ve seen, and what relationship they have with the murders that happened over the past two days."

The police department considers all five men to have gang affiliations.

“If certain individuals are not tied to murders, and that’s what people are worried about, I’m not going to name someone’s name to make myself feel better," Morales said. "I’m not going to point a finger at anyone else either, to make myself look like I’m not responsible, because we all are responsible.”   

The warrants for the men include possession of a stolen vehicle, probation violation, aggravated malicious wounding, robbery, and gun charges. One of them in wanted in connection with a recent shooting that hurt a man.

Morales noted misdemeanor charges don’t often come with long sentences.

"If you're an adult, a misdemeanor carries 12 months in jail and you serve half time," she said. “Even if you get the maximum sentence of six months, you will eventually come back out."

Morales said her office can only successfully prosecute and convict people when there is sufficient evidence.

“Or we don’t have witnesses who feel safe enough to come forward, then we will have problems prosecuting these cases, but what does not help is finger-pointing," she said. 

Morales said she's continued to push for a witness protection program to better protect people who come forward with information on crime in Portsmouth.

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