Alexandria Police Chief Charles T. Strobel dropped his libel suits against two Northern Virginia newspapers and a lawyer yesterday, saying he had to prepare for his upcoming trial on federal perjury and obstruction of justice charges.
The suits, seeking a total of $6.5 million in damages, will be refiled in Alexandria Circuit Court after Strobel's federal trial in mid-April, said Wiley R. Wright, the chief's lawyer.
They were withdrawn yesterday after Circuit Court Judge Ernest Ballou denied a request from Wright to postpone Strobel's pretrial questioning until after April 30 on the grounds that the chief might have to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and decline to answer some questions.
The three suits were filed in April against The Journal Newspapers, The Alexandria Port Packet and lawyer Mary E. Craig after a special state grand jury cleared Strobel of allegations of wrongdoing in his handling of a 1984 drug investigation. The chief was indicted Feb. 20 on 12 counts of perjury and obstruction of justice for allegedly lying to a federal grand jury in Alexandria about his handling of allegations of sexual misconduct by three police officers.
Strobel, who is on administrative leave with pay, has said he is innocent.
"We're pleased with the dismissal and we hope that's the end of it," said John Greenwald, editorial director of The Journal Newspapers. Five Journal reporters also had been named as defendants in the chief's $1 million suit.
"I think it's remarkable that a libel plaintiff, when confronted with the option of responding to depositions to test his allegations, would rather dismiss his suit than respond," said Harvey B. Cohen, attorney for The Port Packet. The Packet and reporter Alicia Mundy were sued for $3.5 million for allegedly defaming Strobel in a series of articles on his handling of the drug investigation and an alleged illegal wiretapping.
"I think I've been totally vindicated," Mundy said.
Strobel asked $2 million from Craig for allegedly disseminating "false, scandalous and defamatory" statements about him. "I never thought the charges had any merit," said Craig. "I'm very relieved it's over."