CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Chesterfield County’s chief of police is speaking out over the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office’s agreement to expunge records in the solicitation of prostitution case against a Virginia Beach pastor, against whom charges were dropped in Oct. 2022.
Taking to social media, Colonel Jeffrey Katz wrote that he believed a jury of Chesterfield County residents deserved to weigh in on the case to determine Pastor John Blanchard’s guilt or innocence, but were never given the chance.
“The decision to nolle prosse this case has made such a deliberation impossible,” Katz wrote on Facebook. “But I want to be clear; this is NOT due to a lack of evidence or a substandard investigation.”
Conversely, the police report on Blanchard’s case noted that felony solicitation of prostitution and use of a vehicle to promote prostitution charges were dropped in a decision “authorized by CA [Commonwealth’s Attorney] Davenport due to lack of evidence.”
It was that supposed “lack of evidence” that prompted Del. Tim Anderson (R-83) to submit a legal information request for the records pertaining to Blanchard’s Oct. 2021 arrest. He was taken into custody, along with 16 other men, as part of an undercover operation, in which Chesterfield County detectives posed as teen sex workers.
Anderson’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request yielded the release of the police report and text messages exchanged between Blanchard and detectives posing as a 17-year-old prostitute.
“When someone: 1. Rents a car, 2. Texts a phone number posted on a known sex worker website, 3. Solicits a ‘qv’ (‘John’ lingo for a ‘quick visit’), 4. Makes multiple inquiries if the person he’s texting is ‘affiliated with law enforcement,’ 5. Drives two and a half hours to a hotel and knocks on the hotel room door — as directed by our undercover ’17-year-old,’ I believe a jury of Chesterfield County residents deserves to weigh in on the matter of criminal culpability,” Katz wrote in his post.
The released text messages did, in fact, show that Blanchard asked for a “qv,” writing, “wya luv?” and later, “What room number should I go to?”
“That certainly is a case that could have been presented,” 8News Legal Analyst Russ Stone said Wednesday. “What a judge or jury would have done with it, we don’t know. But that’s true in every case, as well. I’d say the most remarkable thing about all this, though, is that there is such a disconnect between the two officers because that really doesn’t serve anybody.”
Stone, a former prosecutor and current defense attorney in the greater Richmond area, added that the Chesterfield County Police Department and Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office work together closely, making such diametric opposition all the more unusual.
“I have had cases similar to that that have gone to trial with basically that kind of evidence,” he said. “Sometimes, they result in convictions. Sometimes, they do not result in convictions. But, in this case, we’re never going to know because it was dropped.”
As 8News previously reported, Blanchard’s attorney has since filed to have the records of his arrest sealed. The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office signed the motion to expunge, in agreement with the request.
“Pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request filed in November 2022, I exercised my discretion under the law to publicly release the details of this investigation because I believe there is a compelling public interest in maintaining as much transparency as possible with this case,” Katz wrote. “Our Commonwealth’s Attorney has decided to consent to render these records unavailable to the public, which — upon approval by a judge — would make sharing of these transcripts, the report, or any other documents, previously released under FOIA a crime. From my vantage point, this is bewildering.”
Last week, Del. Anderson stepped in, filing a motion to intervene and prevent the records from being sealed. A judge in Chesterfield County set a hearing on the matter for March.
“Prosecutors offices and police departments have to work together. The system doesn’t function as well if they’re not working together,” Stone said. “Clearly, in this situation, there is something going on. There is a disconnect there. Maybe it’s political. Maybe it’s personal. We don’t know the answer to that.”
Over the months of 8News’ reporting, there have been several attempts made to speak with Commonwealth’s Attorney Davenport. With the exception of a written statement from November, there has been no response.