Acting Commonwealth's Attorney John Kloch strongly criticized the Alexandria Police Department yesterday for its handling of an undercover narcotics investigation in which two Alexandria women were sent into singles bars to befriend prospective drug sellers.
The official investigation, which resulted in 26 indictments, raised questions of "entrapment and improper handling of evidence," Kloch said, which may jeopardize prosecution of the cases.
Deputy Chief Clyde Scott defended the drug probe yesterday, saying, "I don't have any problems with the investigation. This was a routine operation in narcotics."
Although Kloch said police informed Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney David O'Brien at the start of the nine-month undercover probe, he criticized the department's "failure" to keep prosecutors up to date on its progress.
"They (the vice squad) never came to us. They should have informed us," Kloch said after a 23-page sworn deposition given by one of the women, Janice Mary Pichna, 25, was revealed this week.
Picha's appeared in Norfolk yesterday before a joint legislative subcommittee investigation, which began in January.
Picha appeared in Norfolk yesterday before a joint legislative subcommittee investigating Virginia's marijuana laws.
In her sworn depostion, Picha said that she was recruited by her roommate - an undercover vice squad policewoman - to solicit drugs and that the women smoked marijuana themselves to protect their cover. She also said the women made sexual advances to young men to accomplish the transactions.
Scott said he did not know why Picha decided to make a deposition about her activities, but speculated that she may have become "emotionally involved" with someone who has been indicted or is under investigation.
Scott added, "I think the undercover policewoman (in the drug probe) showed a lot of moxie. She's going to make one of our best officiers. You can't go out and play pattycake with pushers and expect them (police officers) to go easy on them."
But one police officer familiar with the investigation, who declined to be identified, said the women's efforts were "botched."
"I think there will be a real problem with the cases, specifically with the chain of custody," said the officer. The "chain of custody" concerns the credibility of evidence presented in court cases.
Picha said in her statement that the drugs (marijuana, cocaine, LSD and PCP) were kept in unsealed envelopes in an unlocked drawer and often were not turned in for days. Picha also said the policewoman, at least once, carried the drugs on her person because she had forgotten to dispose of the evidence.
Scott said yesterday that Picha "doesn't know anything about presenting evidence in court. We've checked this out, and all a police officer has to do is testify she bought this from this person at such and such a time. We're okay," he said.
But Kloch disagreed. "The vice squad needs direction and the knowledge and ability to handle evidence (in drug cases)," he said. "Over the years they haven't been doing as good as a job as they should. I can't order the police department to do anything, but we shouldn't have to put up with it."
"Anyone could have seen it (the investigation) was going to go sour in the end," said one vice squad member. "Mismanagement was the real problem. They had no control over the women." The officer also criticized the focus of the probe, saying it concentrated on small-time users instead of dealers.
"The point of it all was numbers.They don't give a damn what the drug amounts were. They wanted to show numbers," the officer said yesterday.
Picha said she and her roommate were instructed to make at least three buys per customer, limiting the sale to $100.
"That's ridiculous," said another source close to the investigation. "What are you going to buy for $100? You're just spinning your wheels."
Kloch yesterday called the vice squad "leaderless and one officer described the morale of the vice squad as "pitiful . . . awful, terrible."
Deputy Chief Scott said yesterday that the squad, which has been without a sergeant since May, would be taken over by Cpl. Al Levesque Wednesday.
"We have had some supervisory problems down there, that's understandable," Scott said, adding that "for some time" police commanders have wanted to bring more management and control to the vice squad.
In May, Sgt. Lawrence Black, then head of the vice squad, resigned after being told that he was the subject of an internal department investigation into "improprieties relating to the mismanagement of personnel and resources", Police Chief Charles T. Strobel said at the time.
Black, a 16-year veteran of the force, had "compromised himself to the point that he lost command (of the unit), he was ineffective," Strobel said.
The specific details of the internal affairs investigation have not been revealed, and Black has not been available for comment.
Scott yesterday shed new light on the department's undercover activities.
"We always try to run an undercover drug operation. We use people fresh out of the (police) academy, so their faces won't be known to the pushers. At the same time as the two women were out making contacts, we had a male officer out in the bars, trying to do the same thing," Scott revealed.
However, "that operation wasn't very successful, and the officer was later moved over to our massage parlor investigation," he said.
In that operation, a police officer, Edward Johannemann, and a civilian, Kevin Brennen, paid for sexual services at several Alexandria massage parlors. At one subsequent trial, at which Brennen testified, a judge threw the case out, saying it was hard to tell "who was the bigger whore."