Morton Ford, an Alexandria police officer who headed the vice and narcotics squad for many years and was at the center of a politically charged legal battle in the 1980s, died of cancer June 18 at Capital Hospice in Arlington. He was 64.
Mr. Ford joined the Alexandria police in 1971 after Marine Corps service in Vietnam. Three years into his police work, he survived a gunshot to the chest after responding to a holdup at a liquor store. Soon after, the Alexandria Jaycees named him policeman of the year.
He went on to serve much of his career in vice and narcotics and drew headlines in 1985 for publicly accusing Police Chief Charles T. Strobel of cutting short a drug probe in which city officials’ names were mentioned on a police informant’s tape recording.
The accusations, brought by then-Sgt. Ford and another officer, riveted Alexandria at a time when the city was facing a mounting crisis of illegal drug trafficking. It was an election year.
The officers said Strobel was interfering with the drug probe and showing favoritism in police investigations involving city officials.
The two officers accused their boss of transferring them to patrol duties — in effect, punishing them for speaking out. In August 1985, a U.S. District Court jury found Strobel had violated the two officers’ constitutional rights to free association and due process. The jury awarded the officers $15,000.
Both officers had long been reinstated to their old jobs by the time a federal appeals court in Richmond overturned the verdict in October 1987 citing a procedural error at the District Court trial.
Strobel, who disputed the charges of retaliating against the policemen, resigned from city government about two months before the appeals court ruling and months ahead of his scheduled retirement.
At the time, Alexandria City Manager Vola Lawson said an internal investigation into a variety of concerns about Strobel’s leadership found “significant failure of top management in the department.” Strobel was acquitted of all charges that arose during his decade-long tenure as police chief.
“It was a transitional time,” said Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.), who was Alexandria mayor from 1985 to 1990 and who initially expressed public support for Strobel but soon changed his mind.
“A lot of things were allowed to happen in the city that people like Morty Ford, rightfully, were uncomfortable about,” Moran said. “They applied pressure because they felt Charlie Strobel should have been more aggressive as police chief. Morty Ford had a lot of courage and commitment to his profession and a great deal of integrity.”
The congressman added that Mr. Ford worked quietly and persistently to help those with substance abuse problems get into treatment programs. He convinced them that the programs were a more palatable alternative than the life-altering shame of jail.
“He did a lot of stuff where he’s used judgment and discretion to change a lot of lives,” Moran said.
Morton Marshall Ford III was born Sept. 18, 1946, in Ronceverte, W.Va., and raised in Newark, Ohio. He graduated in 1979 from American University.
He left the Alexandria police force in the mid-1990s and devoted the rest of his life to watercolor and oil painting at Alexandria’s Torpedo Factory Art Center.
His marriage, to the former Mary Lincoln, ended in divorce. Survivors include a brother; and two sisters.