CHESTERFIELD, Va. — Days after the Chesterfield County Police Chief said on Facebook that he thought the child sex solicitation case against a Virginia Beach pastor should go to trial, the county's Commonwealth Attorney has responded.
"Moral outrage is no substitute for evidence," Stacey Davenport said in the opening lines of her statement.
Her office pointed to claims made by Del. Tim Anderson, who was one of the first people to publicly criticize the Commonwealth Attorney's handling of the case against Rock Church pastor John Blanchard. He was accused of arranging a meetup for sex with an undercover investigator who was posing as a 17-year-old girl prostitute online.
Police say Blanchard rented a car, drove 2.5 hours, showed up at the hotel and knocked on the hotel room door, where he was arrested.
But his charges have been nolle prossed in court, which does not mean Blanchard is presumed innocent. It means prosecutors don't believe they have enough evidence to convict him in trial, so his charges are dropped for now and could be brought back if more evidence comes to light.
Recently, Blanchard's lawyers filed a "petition for expungement" to seal all records about these criminal charges. The Chesterfield court hasn't come to a decision about that motion, but Davenport's office has stated in court records that it has "no objection" to the request.
Blanchard has since returned to the pulpit of Rock Church in Virginia Beach, and and has publicly claimed the allegations against him are lies.
But there are still some people pushing for the charges to be decided by a jury, like Anderson and Chesterfield County Police Chief Col. Jeffrey Katz, whose department arrested Blanchard as part of a two-day sting operation. Both have made multiple public statements criticizing the county prosecutor's handling of the case.
In response, Davenport sent out a statement Friday to tell people the decisions made in this case haven't been political.
She said her office prosecuted 10,000 cases in 2022, and her team takes great lengths to make sure they can reach a conviction in court before they actually take a case to court.
She also addressed the aparent disagreement on Blanchard's case between her office and the Chesterfield police department.
The following is the full statement from the Chesterfield County Office of the Commonwealth's Attorney:
Chesterfield, Virginia; January 13, 2023 - While it is clear that Delegate Tim Anderson wants to continue the public debate over the way the Chesterfield Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office handled the case of Commonwealth v. John Blanchard in 2022, moral outrage is no substitute for evidence, and this office stands by its decision to nolle prosequi the case. The decision was based solely upon the law, the facts of the case, and the professional experience and ethical duties of the prosecutors. Any assertion to the contrary is offensive to every prosecutor in this office and is patently false.
This office prosecuted over 10,000 cases in 2022, so it is inevitable that our office and the Chesterfield Police Department will occasionally disagree on the strengths and weaknesses of individual cases. However, my staff and I take great pride in always discussing those disagreements privately and not allowing them to affect our working relationship. While it is the responsibility of the Chesterfield Police Department to investigate cases, it is the responsibility of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office to determine whether there is an appropriate avenue for successful prosecution.
The Chesterfield Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office takes great exception to the attempted politicization of this case by Del. Anderson. Any claim that this office is using the Defendant’s Petition for Expungement to “silence any political opponents from using published police records” is unwarranted and without merit. Contrary to Del. Anderson’s assertion, there exists no “political advantage” for the Commonwealth’s Attorney in this or any other expungement process. Every Petition for Expungement received by this office is evaluated and processed pursuant to the law, as was this petition. This office is not motivated by politics. Our only motivation is ensuring public safety while upholding the Constitution of the United States.