A special grand jury reported yesterday it found no evidence of wrongdoing by Alexandria Public Safety Director Charles T. Strobel in a police drug investigation and blasted unnamed City Council members for "callous, politically motivated" actions that it said attempted to damage Strobel's reputation.
The six-week investigation into allegations that Strobel prematurely halted a 1984 cocaine investigation found those charges "baseless and unfounded."
The 11-member jury's strongly worded, four-page report also said the investigation "turned up no legitimate evidence that Alexandria City Sheriff Michael E. Norris used, distributed or in any way condoned the use of illegal drugs."
The jury, which had the power to recommend criminal indictments, delivered its report to Circuit Court Judge Donald H. Kent yesterday with no such recommendations.
The report calls the actions of certain council members against Strobel "one of the lowest points in Alexandria's political history."
Though no officials are named in the report, Mayor Charles E. Beatley and council member Donald C. Casey have been Strobel's most vocal critics over the last two months, publicly calling for his suspension last week.
"I'm elated," Strobel said after the report's release yesterday. "I always knew I would be vindicated, but I certainly didn't expect the report to be written in this manner."
"I am very pleased," said former city manager Douglas Harman, who appointed Strobel as public safety director.
"The conclusion is sweeping. This city has been wracked if not wrecked by back-room rumors."
"I thought they were digging in a dry well to begin with," said Norris.
The grand jury's findings already have become a major issue in the campaign for the May 7 City Council election and some of the same allegations are being investigated by a federal grand jury.
Beatley has called for an administrative review of the police department and Acting City Manager Vola Lawson has indicated that she may go along with that request.
The grand jury report was considered by some to be the final act in one of the most contentious controversies in recent Alexandria history.
However, other officials indicated that the report may not put an end to the two-month-old furor that has slowed the workings of city government and created bitter relations between city employes and the City Council.
Some say the political maelstrom is what prompted Harman, who took a job as city manager of Fort Worth, to leave the city.
The special grand jury was impaneled Jan. 15 by Kent to review allegations by a former Alexandria police detective and two policemen that Strobel aborted an investigation into cocaine use at a city restaurant early last year in spite of leads the policemen said could have led to evidence of possible drug use by Norris.
"What they are saying is that they found no prosecutable crime," Beatley said, repeating his call for an administrative review of the police department management.
"I'm not going to tell you what I think of it yet," said Democratic City Council member Casey, who first brought allegations about the cocaine investigation to the attention of the council in an executive session Dec. 11.
"I've said all along that if allegations are unfounded they've got to be exposed for what they are," Casey said.
"It won't be over until the federal authorities are finished and our administrative review of the police department is finished."
"It would be a mistake if City Council keeps churning up more issues around the public safety department," said Harman, who was praised by the jurors' report as a "professional who merit(s) the highest respect."
Federal officials have declined to talk about the topic of their investigation.
However, Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr., who served as special counsel to the special grand jury, said yesterday that he was not aware of "any witness that the feds know about that we don't know about."
Horan said he spoke with U.S. Attorney Elsie Munsell to see whether the witnesses meeting with the federal grand jury "are singing the same tune in both opera houses. Essentially the tune is the same."
Horan said the special grand jury had reviewed "what smattering of evidence was brought them" on illegal wiretapping in the police department, allegations that Beatley and Horan have said the federal grand jury is investigating.
Mary Craig, an attorney representing the three men who accused Strobel of prematurely halting the drug investigation, former police investigator Charles Cox, and policemen Joseph Morrash and Morton Ford, said she was "appalled but not surprised" by the findings.
"I knew it was going to be a whitewash," she said. "I promise you this is not the end."
The jurors' report also said they were "appalled by the journalistic irresponsibility demonstrated by some members of the press" in reporting what it said was "uncorroborated, highly inflammatory allegations as facts . . . . "
The jury also said it was left with "an impression of possible conspiratorial collusion" by some of the individuals who made unfounded allegations against the embattled public safety director.
The jurors heard from 32 witnesses and reviewed 6,000 pages of documents, according to their report.
Horan said the public summary is part of a longer report that will remain secret because allegations repeated in it could damage reputations.
Horan said of speculation that he had written portions of the report, "I wish I could take credit for it . . . . It's all their language . . . and from what I know, it comes from the heart."
Special grand jury foreman Brett Chowning said the jurors collaborated in writing the report and that decisions were reached amicably and unanimously.
"I hope this is the end of it," he said. "The thing did harm to some people in this city . . . and now we can all get back to work."
Asked who the jurors had in mind when they accused the press of irresponsible work, Chowning said, "the people who wrote those stories know exactly who they are."
Alexandria Port Packet editor and reporter Alicia Mundy, who first reported the allegations about the drug investigation, said yesterday that she stands by her newspaper reports.
"All we did was print allegations that were serious enough that federal authorities are looking into them," she said.
"An awful lot of damage has been done to distinguished public servants in this city," said Republican council member Robert L. Calhoun.
"What's going to be required is some serious apologies to some people by all of us."