When a U.S. District Court jury found last week that Alexandria Public Safety Director Charles T. Strobel had violated two police officers' constitutional rights, the same question that has been dogging him for months seemed to follow him down the courthouse steps: Will he survive this one?
Some city officials say privately that Thursday's $15,000 judgment against Strobel, who entered the court fight already bruised by a series of controversies bubbling since December, could be the critical blow that costs him his job.
However, others say that the city officials who have the power to fire Strobel won't for political reasons.
Acting City Manager Vola Lawson, who appoints department heads, has not returned numerous phone calls on the matter. Lawson, who has tried to downplay her well-known personality conflict with Strobel, hopes to avoid the sticky Strobel problem until the City Council names a permanent manager, a post she clearly wants, according to several city officials.
"I don't know what we are going to do," Mayor James P. Moran Jr. said after learning of the verdict. Moran said that after he discussed the matter with other council members the whole council might decide to have a special meeting. With three council members vacationing or on business out of town for most of this month, that prospect seems unlikely.
Moran, who ran against five-term incumbent Charles E. Beatley in the May election as a staunch Strobel supporter, praised the public safety director July 2 as an employe "the city can be pround of."
City Council members have been exceptionally quiet about the matter since Thursday's verdict -- understandably so considering the city's recent legal bouts with the public safety director.
Last month, the council agreed to pay Strobel $8,716 for legal fees incurred during a special grand jury investigation, which did not find any support for allegations that Strobel was guilty of criminal wrongdoing. The council also announced that the city's insurance company would pay Strobel $85,000 in an out-of-court settlement of his defamation lawsuits filed against three city employes.
"We're not going to rush into this one," said council member Patricia S. Ticer. Council member Robert L. Calhoun, usually quick to speak his mind, declined any comment.
Only council member Lionel Hope, who had been a staunch ally of Beatley on the past council, spoke at length about the verdict against Strobel. "It the verdict means finally a great deal has been straightened out . . . . It makes me feel good because our previous inquiries were not in vain."
After 26 years in the Alexandria police department, Strobel isn't the type to leave by choice, his associates say, particularly because finding a comparable job could be difficult given his current troubles.
Perhaps more important than the civil case Strobel lost Thursday -- which ended with a finding that Strobel had transferred police officers Joseph Morrash and Morton Ford from investigative to patrol duties in 1983 for punitive reasons -- is the cumulative effect of this year's police controversies.
In addition to an earlier special grand jury, a federal grand jury in Alexandria continues to hear witnesses on allegations of misconduct in the police department. While little is known about the scope of the inquiry, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Williams refuses to comment on it, the fact that the department is again being investigated is perceived by many as damaging.
In another incident involving the police department, Lawson ordered changes in dispatching procedures and training after police investigated the wrong home while an 89-year-old woman was assaulted.
"I think the safest thing to do is to wait until the administrative review is finished," said Hope. The City Council has ordered an outside review of the public safety department.
Even if city officials continue to be silent about Strobel, many believe that when the council decides on the scope of that review, they will be revealing feelings of either discontent with or confidence in Strobel.