Several civilian staff members wept openly at Alexandria police headquarters yesterday morning. For others, there was no sorrow.
It was the day after the city's police chief, Charles T. Strobel, had been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of perjury and obstructing justice, after more than a year of turmoil over the way he ran his department.
The reaction at headquarters reflected the sentiments of others in the city. While some were weeping in the Police Department, one officer, a longtime critic of Strobel who asked not to be named, said, "It's a wonder he has lasted this long."
"I know today is a very hard day for the police force," said City Manager Vola Lawson, who, along with Mayor James P. Moran Jr. and other city officials, rushed back from a legislative meeting in Richmond Thursday night as soon as they heard of the indictments.
"This has been the most difficult year in the city's history," Lawson said. "But the police here are very competent and dedicated professionals. I am very proud of them and I know they will go forward."
Lawson placed Strobel, 48, on administrative leave with pay Thursday night. Strobel, who has been head of the department since 1977, receives an annual salary of $72,000.
During the last year, Strobel has been the object of two grand jury investigations -- one of which exonerated him of allegations that he prematurely terminated a police drug probe -- as well as civil litigation. He has had his partisans and his vehement critics. The controversy around him figured prominently in last spring's City Council elections and led to the departure of a city manager.
Moran supported Strobel while the drug probe allegations were under review, and his election last May as mayor was viewed widely as a sign that Alexandria's voters had grown weary of the controversy and publicity attending the police chief. Moran said yesterday he was chagrined to hear of the indictment.
"Any time you have a police chief indicted, sure, that's reason for chagrin," he said. Moran added that City Council members should withhold judgment on Strobel until a jury weighs the case.
Many expressed shock. That was the initial reaction of numerous politicians, including state Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell (R-Alexandria) and City Council member Redella Pepper.
Similar sentiments were expressed by Barbara Euripides, proprietor of the Royal Restaurant, a favorite hangout of local politicians. "For a sleepy little town to be torn up for so long, it's just one horror after the other," she said.
"I have known Charlie Strobel for a long time, and he's always been a decent and courteous person. I'm crushed."
Almost since the day a year ago that the special state grand jury cleared Strobel of one set of allegations, rumors have persisted that he would be indicted on unrelated charges by the federal grand jury.
The indictment alleges that Strobel, who will be arraigned in federal court on Monday, lied to the federal grand jury last October and December by saying he could not remember certain events when questioned about his handling of allegations that other police officers had engaged in sexual wrongdoing.
Both Moran and Lawson expressed confidence in Arlen Justice, a 19-year police veteran Lawson named as acting chief while Strobel is on leave.
Strobel, who said Thursday night he was disappointed, could not be reached for additional comment yesterday.
Plato Cacheris, a prominent Washington area criminal lawyer, said he has agreed to represent Strobel.
"He asked me formally today," said Cacheris, who had had preliminary discussions with Strobel. "I think the indictment is a very poorly drafted document."
According to Thursday's indictment, Strobel was given information in 1974 -- when he was a captain in charge of the department's internal affairs section -- and again in 1978 concerning allegations that an Alexandria police officer had tried to have sexual relations with a prostitute who had become a police informant. Strobel also was allegedly told that two Fairfax County officers were having sexual relations with the prostitute.
The indictment states that Strobel ordered the persons who brought him those allegations, police officers Louis Pugh, John Miller, Larry Brohard, to cease any investigation into the matter.
"You have to look at the bright spots and move on," said Capt. A.G. Salvas, Alexandria's chief of detectives, yesterday. "It's been such a long, depressing year. We went through hell, and now we're going to face it again. It's politics, not public safety. And we have to just ignore it as best we can. But it does get weary. How could it not?"