By 6 a.m. yesterday, Alexandria police department employes were inflating blue balloons and laying down red carpet for their chief.
By noon, Police Chief Charles Tyson Strobel had been hugged by at least 100 people and kissed by a jubilant woman who dashed out of her house in gray bedroom slippers.
Strobel, 48, was acquitted Thursday on charges that he lied to a federal grand jury investigating corruption in his department. And yesterday, for the first time since he was placed on administrative leave Feb. 20, he returned to work.
A formal, precise man, who keeps his cigarettes in his socks to prevent the pockets of his crisp navy blue uniform from bulging, Strobel said he was greeted at 7:33 a.m. yesterday by dozens of police officers shouting "Hail to the Chief."
Stepping onto the red crepe paper carpet leading into his office, Strobel smiled for the television cameras awaiting him and said that since the clerk of the federal court announced the "not guilty" verdicts on 12 counts, he has been showered with expressions of support.
"People have honked their horns and hugged me on the sidewalk," he said. "I don't even know who they were. I just hugged them back."
After a brief morning celebration at police headquarters, Strobel and his wife, Paula, attended mass at St. Mary's Catholic Church on Duke Steet, where well-wishers whispered their congratulations and shook his hand.
"We just love him. You know he was born right here in Alexandria," said Jean Leake, an Old Town resident who ran out of her home in bedroom slippers to kiss Strobel as he left church. "We all knew he was innocent."
Strobel said he felt no bitterness after what he described as a 2 1/2-year ordeal that began with disgruntled employes within the department and eventually led to state and federal grand jury investigations. Police officers had alleged that he improperly stopped a 1984 police drug investigation and that he failed to fully investigate allegations of sexual misconduct by other police officers. He has now been cleared by both state and federal juries.
"There were four or five people who targeted me," he said, declining to name them. "They had questions and now they're answered."
Former city manager Douglas Harman, who resigned last year amid the controversy to head the Fort Worth, city administration, said yesterday that former City Council member Donald C. Casey and Alexandria Port Packet reporter Alicia Mundy, along with others had pursued a "personal vendetta" against Strobel.
"The city was dragged through as much muck as possible because some warped people got pleasure out of it," said Harman.
Casey, who was defeated last May largely because of his vocal criticism of Strobel, said after the verdict was announced that serious issues remain unanswered.
Mundy, who first reported the allegations that Strobel mishandled a drug investigation, said the trial vindicated her.
Munday said she was "targeting a serious problem in the management of the Alexandria police department which has been proved time and time again in the past and at this trial."
Strobel also said the controversy might have been avoided if the allegations had been raised at a different time.
The police department had just been merged with the fire department when the controversy arose in 1984, leaving some employes insecure in their new positions, he said.
Strobel said he was given what he considered the impossible task of serving as both public safety director and police chief.
In January, City Manager Vola Lawson dismantled the Public Safety Department, returning the police and fire departments to separate divisions.
Just before dawn yesterday, Linda C. Thomas, a police account clerk for 25 years, arrived at the North Pitt Street headquarters an hour early to help her colleagues blow up balloons, crayon a sign declaring "Welcome Back Boss," and replace the personal items removed from Strobel's office when he was indicted two months ago and placed on administrative leave.
"It's the greatest day since I've been here," said Thomas.
"The phones been ringing since 6 a.m.," said Strobel's secretary, Florence K. Morse.
"There are telegrams, and cards . . . there's no doubt about it -- we're happy," she said.