CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. — Chesterfield County Commonwealth's Attorney Stacey Davenport is weighing in on recent criticism about how it handled the case of John Blanchard, a Virginia Beach pastor accused of trying to solicit a minor.
Davenport's office released a statement Wednesday, more than a month after prosecutors nolle prossed Blanchard's charges. In that case, the charges were dropped but could be refiled if prosecutors believe they have enough evidence to move forward.
In the statement, Davenport stressed that type of conclusion in Blanchard's case doesn't have the same legal effect as a not-guilty finding.
She added that Blanchard's case was one of several apart of an October 2021 sting operation that involved a Chesterfield detective posing as a 17-year-old online. As a result, 17 people were arrested.
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"The interaction between the detective and the defendant in each case was different," Davenport wrote. "As a result, the evidence available for use in the prosecution of each case was different, and the outcome of each case was different. Some of the cases had sufficient evidence to support felony convictions, and some did not."
Davenport said prosecutors have to evaluate the strength of the evidence provided by the police in each case, which could affect if they proceed with charges or not.
"The legal standard required for an officer to obtain a warrant for arrest is merely probable cause," Davenport wrote. "A prosecutor must have evidence that proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to support a conviction in a court of law and ethically cannot proceed with charges in a case where the evidence does not meet that standard."
Davenport's statement came after Virginia Beach Attorney Tim Anderson posted copies of Blanchard's arrest documents he obtained through a public records request.
"Rock Church Leadership still maintains Pastor Blanchard is innocent," Anderson wrote on Facebook. "To all Rock Church leadership who know about this and are complicit: Your silence is an indictment of your hypocrisy."
In follow-up posts, Anderson questioned Davenport's role in the case and called for transparency.
13News Now has reached out to Rock Church for comment and an update on Blanchard's status within the church but has not recieved a response.
Following the withdrawal of charges against Blanchard last month, Bishop Anne Gimenez shared a statement on the church's Facebook page hinting at his return to church leadership in the near future.
"We have always believed in John’s innocence," Gimenez wrote on Oct. 11, 2022. "His humility and submission to those over him during this time has been a testimony to his character. He has spent the time in fasting and prayer and has invested much of his time in his family and education. We anticipate his resumption of church duties in the near future.”
Blanchard stepped back from his duties at Rock Church following his arrest last year and until the situation was "totally resolved," according to a Nov. 2021 statement from the church.
"Rock Church is committed to honesty and integrity in dealing with charges or accusations of sexual misconduct or immorality among its leaders and will support any investigation arising from accusations of violation of this standard among its staff and leaders in an effort to find the truth and to protect its members, church families and their children, at all times," the church's website stated.
As of Nov. 17, 2022, Rock Church's statement from last year about Blanchard remains unchanged on its website's homepage.