More than a year ago, we thought Alexandria's city hall was finally seeing the end of an awful political uproar that had consumed nearly everyone there for more than a few months. Tempers had been boiling, fingers pointing and charges flying back and forth between top officers of the city government. Yet -- and here was the startling part -- there was not a shred of evidence then that any wrongdoing had ever occurred. So said, in effect, a special grand jury report; targets of the allegations had been victims of a considerable smear. But it didn't end then. It has taken until now, with a jury clearing the city's police chief of six flimsy counts of perjury and six equally shallow counts of corruption.
The focus had been on allegations by a former Alexandria police detective and two policemen that Police Chief Charles T. Strobel aborted an investigation into cocaine use at a restaurant in 1984. News of the allegations first appeared in a local newspaper, the Alexandria Port Packet. Donald C. Casey, a city council member at that time, who brought the allegations to the attention of the council, and then- mayor Charles E. Beatley became Mr. Strobel's most vocal critics. Both Mr. Casey and Mr. Beatley were defeated in bitter campaigns last May.
After hearing 32 witnesses and reviewing 6,000 pages of documents, the state grand jury not only found the allegations without substance, but also ripped into unnamed council members for "callous, politically motivated" actions -- "one of the lowest points in Alexandria's political history."
But the mess only worsened. Along came federal prosecutors and a federal grand jury to pump up a 67-page indictment charging that Chief Strobel had "testified falsely and evasively" when questioned about his knowledge of allegations of sexual misconduct by three area policemen. Yet under cross- examination, the prosecution's own witnesses said they could not recall details of times they spoke with the chief -- and one former police officer admitted that he had given erroneous testimony to the grand jury in three instances. So groundless was the federal prosecutor's case that Chief Strobel's attorney presented no evidence, arguing successfully that the government's case was without merit. As one juror put it, "It wasn't at all clear why they had him there in the first place."