CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Previously unreleased emails have revealed new insight into the conversations between Chesterfield Police and the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office regarding the handling of the solicitation of prostitution case against a Virginia Beach pastor, as well as new evidence with the potential to reopen that case.
“It’s egregiously bad,” Del. Tim Anderson (R-Norfolk) said.
Anderson obtained approximately 300 pages of documents through a legal information request, providing a behind-the-scenes look at the handling of the case. 8News’ previous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests were denied.
“[The Chesterfield County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office] made a deal to let him [Blanchard] go through psychosexual therapy and evaluation and sex offender treatment, and they cut him loose,” Anderson said. “Then, they agreed to expunge the case, which is sealing and erasing the police records from further public review.”
One email showed that, in March 2022, the prosecutor on Blanchard’s case indicated intent to send it to a grand jury. Another email revealed that Blanchard took psychosexual counseling, but it was from “some other Mega Church,” and did not qualify in the eyes of the court.
In October 2022, however, the direction of the case changed. As 8News previously reported, approximately one year after Blanchard’s initial arrest in October 2021, his felony solicitation of prostitution and misdemeanor use of a vehicle to aid prostitution charges were dropped. Although the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office cited a “lack of evidence,” these newly obtained provided additional context.
“The defense attorney has had some conversations with Stacey [Davenport], and Defendant did the equivalent of a psychosexual and has been in sex offender related counseling,” an email from the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office to Chesterfield Police said. “Based on all of that, it was nolle prossed this morning.”
Additional emails also noted that Blanchard’s lawyer reached out to Davenport, who then spoke with her Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney about how the case should be handled.
Last month, 8News filed a FOIA request for communications between Davenport and Blanchard’s attorney, T. Noel Brooks, but it was denied by her office.
“This deferred finding option was not offered to anyone else in — that were similarly situated,” Anderson said. “It was just offered to Blanchard.”
Blanchard was originally charged as part of an undercover operation that led to the arrest of 17 men accused of soliciting sex from minors. Three defendants had their charges nolle prossed — or dropped — while 13 others were found guilty of at least one charge. One additional case is still playing out in court.
An Oct. 11 email from Chesterfield Police to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office showed an officer asking questions about why Blanchard’s charges were dropped.
“The majority of those arrested will have to do those things plus be convicted,” the email said. “What was different about him? Not at all blaming you, I just want to understand.”
After Blanchard’s charges were dropped in October, Anderson obtained documents on Blanchard’s arrest in November. The records documented the pastor’s communication with an undercover detective posing as a teen girl through a “well-known prostitution website.”
Blanchard indicated he was looking for a “qv,” which, according to the police report, is a phrase in the sex trade meaning “quick visit” for sex. The detective asked for $80 for this visit, which later changed to $70. During the conversation, the detective sent a message saying “she” was actually 17 years old and asked whether that was okay with Blanchard. He responded by asking for her location.
Emails obtained by Anderson as part of this more recent FOIA request noted that “Blanchard had a ‘built-in defense’ because he did not acknowledge the age, and that he claimed he was driving and didn’t see the text.” But Anderson, an attorney himself, said that was just a defense that could be used in court, and not a reason to avoid prosecution.
When Blanchard arrived at the indicated hotel room, he was arrested by police and charged.
“I’m not trying to say Pastor Blanchard’s guilty of anything,” Anderson told 8News in January. “But he was treated differently. That’s a fact, and that’s not something that we would want as lawyers or as public officials. We would not want to see somebody being treated differently or better than others in a criminal prosecution case.”
On Dec. 12, 2022, Blanchard’s legal representative, filed a motion to expunge the records of his arrest in Chesterfield County. The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office agreed, noting that there was “no objection to the Petition for Expungement.”
On Jan. 4, Anderson filed his own motion — a motion for leave to intervene and effectively stop the expungement of the Chesterfield Police records on Blanchard. Col. Jeffrey Katz, Chesterfield’s Chief of Police also came forward with his own statement — claiming the decision to nolle prosse the case was “not due to a lack of evidence or a substandard investigation.”
On Jan. 19, Commonwealth’s Attorney Davenport announced that she would be appointing a special prosecutor to the case after her office had received “new information” over the prior 48 hours.
The newly released emails indicated that the evidence is a video, which, according to Katz, “validates our assertions that Blanchard knowingly sought to engage in sex with an underage girl in a Chesterfield County hotel room.”
In an email to Davenport, dated Jan. 17, Katz wrote, “Thanks in large measure to the attention this case has received on social media, CCPD Special Victims Detectives received a tip last week, which led to the execution of a search warrant and the seizing of a video germane to our case against Pastor John Blanchard.” The email also included Katz urging Davenport to reevaluate her stance on setting aside Blanchard’s felony charge, as well as her consent to seal the records against him, and to consider the intervention of a special prosecutor.
“I don’t want to get into the evidence of the case,” Chief Katz said during a phone call with 8News on Friday, when asked about why the video evidence was not previously presented or known to authorities. “The evidence is new evidence, and not evidence that we had at the time of the arrest.”
8News has continued to reach out to Davenport for comment since Blanchard’s charges were dropped in October. On Friday, a spokesperson responded that the Commonwealth’s Attorney could not comment on pending litigation.
Friday afternoon, Chief Katz confirmed with 8News that a special prosecutor from the Brunswick County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office had been appointed to the case.
“Here’s a guy you’ve made undergo psychosexual evaluations and go through sex offender therapy, someone you were planning to indict,” the police chief said. “Then, all of a sudden, you decided you’re going to consent to the sealing of those investigative records and reports, and that would mean that if this defendant — who has not been found guilty, to be clear — but if this defendant decided to get a job as a schoolteacher and a background check was done, there would be no records of any kind suggesting that, other than what you folks in the media have been kind enough to put out. But there’d be no records, official government records, of any potential wrongdoing. How is that in the interest of public safety?”