A U.S. District Court jury found yesterday that Alexandria Public Safety Director Charles T. Strobel violated two police officers' constitutional rights and set the damages at $15,000.
After deliberating for more than seven hours, the jury ruled that Strobel had violated the officers' 14th Amendment due process rights when he transferred them from investigative to patrol duties in 1983.
Police officers Joseph Morrash and Morton Ford, who had sought $500,000 in their civil suit against Strobel, accused the city's chief law enforcement officer of transferring them in retaliation for their efforts to investigate Lt. John Stedman, then head of the department's internal affairs section.
Stedman began a years' leave of absence yesterday. He currently is head of personnel and training. Neither he nor his attorney could be reached for comment.
Morrash and Ford said Strobel did not pursue their allegations that Stedman had been involved in sexual misconduct with a teen-age boy seven or eight years ago. Strobel testified Wednesday that he interviewed the alleged victim and Stedman and that both denied the incident occurred.
Strobel also testified that in June 1983 Stedman said that he was a homosexual. Strobel said in court that, after consulting with the police department's legal counsel, he decided that was grounds to transfer -- but not fire -- Stedman.
U.S. District Judge Richard L. Williams yesterday described the three-day civil trial as "emotional and heated" after the verdict was announced to a courtroom full of prosecutors, attorneys, and city officials.
The judge then advised the six-member jury to remain silent about their decision, saying, "It would lose some of its dignity if we try to convert it into a news story or best-seller."
Strobel, 47, was named the public safety director -- the chief administrator for the police, fire and code enforcement divisions -- in 1983. He has served as police chief since 1977.
Strobel declined to comment on the case's outcome yesterday. However, David Fiske, one of Strobel's attorneys, said the case would be immediately appealed.
"There is justice in Alexandria. You just have to go to federal court to find it," said Morrash, after being awarded $6,000 in compensatory damages. Ford, who according to court testimony suffered great trauma and incurred some medical expenses after the transfer, will receive $9,000.
"This was a case of principle, not money," said Morrash, who was reinstated as an investigator in November after an arbitration panel decided his transfer was punitive.
Ford, who is now a sergeant in the uniformed division, said he believed that after yesterday's jury decision Strobel should be fired from his $70,747 post.
Mayor James P. Moran, who along with the other six city council members and the city manager can hire or fire the public safety director, said yesterday the city council may have a special meeting to confer on the Strobel issue. But Moran said he would confer with the other officials before calling any such meeting.
Acting City Manager Vola Lawson could not be reached for comment. CAPTION: Picture, CHARLES T. STROBEL . . . ordered to pay $15,000 damages