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Sen. Joe Morrissey tells local NAACP president ‘I’ll rip your heart out’

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State Sen. Joe Morrissey at a 2015 subcommittee meeting, when he was a member of the House of Delegates. (Photo: Craig Carper/VPM News)

A heated meeting Monday evening between state Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) and the president of the Petersburg NAACP was punctuated by Morrissey saying, “I’ll rip your heart out.”

Virginia Division of Capitol Police spokesperson Joe Macenka said authorities are investigating the confrontation involving Lafayette Jefferson, a critic of Morrissey’s plan to bring a casino to Petersburg.

In an interview Tuesday, Morrissey said he made the comment after he brought out a printout of a 2019 Facebook post in which Jefferson compared Morrissey’s relationship with his much younger, Black wife – which began when she was 17 years old – to former President Thomas Jefferson’s sexual encounters with Sally Hemings, an enslaved worker at his home of Monticello who birthed six children believed to be fathered by Jefferson.

“I said to him, ‘If you ever threaten my wife or my family, I’ll rip your heart out,’ and I stand by that, and I repeat it,” Morrissey said, declining further comment.

Morrissey is a key swing vote in Virginia’s narrowly divided Senate, where Democrats hold a 21-19 edge. The attorney spent three months in jail on a single charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, his now wife Myrna, who was an employee in 2013. Morrissey was 56 in 2014, when he was indicted. Myrna and Morrissey are now married and are raising four children. Former Gov. Ralph Northam granted the state senator a pardon shortly before leaving office.

In an interview, Jefferson said he met with Morrissey in the office of Del. Kim Taylor (R-Petersburg) alongside three other members of the Petersburg NAACP late Monday afternoon. Both Taylor and Morrissey are sponsoring legislation that would allow Petersburg to hold a referendum on hosting a casino after a similar effort failed in Richmond.

Morrissey became increasingly irritated with Jefferson’s resistance to the casino referendum during the hour-long meeting, according to Jefferson, who cited studies to support his argument that the casino would not bring prosperity to the city. At one point, according to both men, the state senator brought out a printout of the 2019 Facebook post. The post was written after Morrissey upset incumbent state Sen. Rosalyn Dance in the Democratic primary, and Jefferson wrote that he would not support Morrissey in the general election.

“Thomas Jefferson, for all the great things he did and accomplished, he accomplished those things while concurrently and continually raping a 14-year-old enslaved African girl,” the post says. “Joe, educated at Jefferson’s home, follows closely in Jefferson’s footsteps.”

Lafayette Jefferson said Morrissey asked whether he’d authored the post, and when Jefferson confirmed that fact, leaned forward and issued a threat: “You talk about my family again, I will cut your f—ing heart out your chest.”

Jefferson said Morrissey stood up and began walking toward him as he let loose a tirade of profanities. Jefferson said he, too, rose — out of fear that Morrissey would take a swing at him while seated. Jefferson said Morrissey only departed after a legislative aide for Taylor asked the pair to leave. Jefferson then reported the incident to Capitol Police.

Macenka said officers were called at 5:15 p.m. Monday to the Pocahontas Building for a report of a disturbance in a fourth-floor office. "Arriving officers determined that an argument had occurred during a meeting that involved a senator, a delegate and a citizen. The citizen alleged that the senator made a statement that the citizen interpreted as a physical threat,” Macenka said. "Capitol Police are continuing to gather information, and the investigation is ongoing."

A representative for Taylor declined to comment.

Jefferson said the episode was troubling and unbecoming of a state senator.

“As a chapter president for the NAACP, as a doctor of theology and, most importantly, as a Black man and resident of the state of Virginia, if I can actually not walk into the General Assembly to speak to my representatives, my senator, my delegate – what kind of actual representation should I expect?” Jefferson said.  “It's very much – ‘Stay your place. Don't don't oppose what I'm saying.’”

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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