Alexandria Mayor Charles E. Beatley said yesterday that he wants an impartial inquiry into allegations in a local newspaper that the city's police chief prematurely ended a police drug investigation when the names of two other city officials were mentioned in taped conversations made by an informant.
The allegations, reported in yesterday's edition of the Alexandria Port Packet, were that the investigation was halted abruptly in March after a police informant carrying a hidden tape recorder saw the city officials in a restaurant that was under investigation as a center for cocaine sales.
Alexandria Commonwealth's Attorney John E. Kloch, who said he had seen reports of the drug investigation, said yesterday there was no evidence of criminal activity on the part of the two city officials at the time that the investigation was allegedly terminated by Public Safety Director Charles T. Strobel.
Police investigators, who said they were familiar with the investigation, agreed with Kloch's assessment, but said they believed that the officials' presence at the restaurant should have been followed up.
"Whether there is real substance there or not, the public will perceive there is and we have to clear the air," said Beatley, who added that he would discuss with the city attorney how such an inquiry might be run.
The handling of the drug investigation was the topic of a late-night executive (closed) session of the City Council Dec. 11, during which council members quizzed Kloch, City Manager Doug Harman and Strobel separately.
Councilman Donald C. Casey said that he had not been totally satisfied with what he called the conflicting answers provided by the officials.
"There is no doubt in my mind that the investigation was prematurely stopped," Casey said.
Strobel yesterday said he would not respond to "any specific questions raised" in the newspaper story.
"It is possible you could be dealing with untrue information," he said. "I haven't done anything to defend myself for, nor has this Department of Public Safety."
Strobel said there was "an ongoing criminal investigation [that] commenced around the month of February," but declined to say what the investigation was about.
Kloch also said yesterday that there was a continuing drug investigation that now was jeopardized by the Packet's story.
He said that he first learned of a drug investigation "in late spring or early summer" from the police.
"My recollection was . . . it was not going on any more," Kloch said.
But in August, Kloch said, he was given a report on that investigation. "As a result of that, there are some on-going investigations," he said.
Kloch said that the present investigation does not center on Sheriff Michael E. Norris, who was one of the city officials whose name turned up in the earlier investigation.
The second official was a high-ranking police officer, according to The Packet.
Kloch said that the investigation focuses on two other persons, neither of whom is a city official.
"The allegations against me are without a single fact and rely on the warped imagination of . . . city officials," Norris said yesterday. He blamed the newspaper story on city officials with political motives.
"Anybody's name can pop up" in a criminal investigation, Norris said.
"These officials are trying to assassinate my character through the deliberate and premeditated spreading of innuendos and lies. . . " he said. "I challenge my faceless accusers to confront me in an open forum so that we may put this openly political charade to rest. . .I welcome any investigation."
Kloch said that he does not know why he did not get the report on the investigation until August, when he had been told that the investigation was over in early spring or summer.
He also said he did not know whether the information given him in August indicated that the investigation had continued until August.
Kloch said that in October a group of persons familiar with the original investigation met with him for three hours because they feared that it had been terminated prematurely by Strobel. Their conversation was taped by mutual agreement, he said.
He took the information provided by the group and compared it with the information he had been given by the police in August to see if the police had left anything out, he said.
"I concluded there was nothing of any material significance missing," he said. "I concluded I had all the information there was to have."
However, Kloch said, after the October meeting he forwarded all the information he had to the Virginia State Police because of continued references in both the police report and the information provided by the group about sales of cocaine in other parts of the state.
Kloch said he concluded there was no evidence in the police report or the information he got in October that indicated Norris was guilty of a crime. He said there was not enough evidence to impanel a grand jury.
"I think there's a lot of chaff out there," Beatley said. "We need an inquiry, a forum or panel to put people under oath and ask them questions. We've got to do something.. . . It's got to require an orderly process where things are brought out in sequence."
Beatley said that he had discussed this with city manager Doug Harman, but that they had disagreed on the need for an inquiry.
"I certainly agree that to settle all of these matters would be desirable," Harman said later. He said that he had first learned about the drug investigation last June.