CHESTERFIELD, Va. — On October 11, 2022, all charges related to attempted solicitation of an underage minor were dropped against John Blanchard, a senior pastor at Rock Church International in Virginia Beach.
Nearly a year prior, the public controversy began:
Community, church members react to news of Blanchard's arrest
Detectives in Chesterfield County, Virginia, said they connected with 17 people on social media during the last week of October 2021 who were seeking to have sex with people underage.
After setting up a place to meet in person, police arrested all of them on October 29, including Blanchard, 51. He faced multiple prostitution-related charges.
A spokesperson with Chesterfield County Sheriff's Office told 13News Now that Blanchard was released. After the arrest, he was seen on stage in Rock Church's Facebook live stream, speaking to people in the pews on Oct. 31, 2021.
Blanchard steps down from pastoral duties
On Nov. 1, Rock Church International announced in a since-deleted Facebook post that Blanchard would be stepping down from pastoral duties during legal proceedings. Before its deletion, 13News Now was able to obtain photos of the post:
"We can not make a statement or comment concerning the accusations against Rev. John Blanchard at this time," the post said.
After Blanchard's arrest, former member talks about charges taken out against him years earlier
A former member of the church spoke with 13News Now about her experience with Blanchard in 2018, which led her to be ex-communicated.
She said that in 2018, Blanchard offered to come to her home to help her work on the church's website. Blanchard outlined that, as well as what she says happened after Blanchard's arrival, in court documents filed in Virginia Beach in 2019, the year she took out charges against him.
Blanchard was acquitted of those charges. He filed a civil case against her in Virginia Beach Circuit Court, saying that the allegations she made were false. He has a similar civil case against another church member for defamation.
Blanchard appears in court on prostitution charges
Blanchard appeared in Chesterfield County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court on Nov. 15, 2021.
Blanchard's lawyer asked that the judge consider changing the conditions of Blanchard's bond which stipulated he could not leave the state. The lawyer said there is church business outside of Virginia, and that Blanchard travels for his job.
The judge asked Blanchard to "maintain good behavior" until Blanchard's trial which was originally scheduled to take place on Jan. 6, 2022.
Judge: Blanchard can leave the state
Two days after his initial court appearance, the judge agreed to drop the restriction but said that Blanchard only can travel outside of the state for work purposes. Blanchard also has to let the church know when and where he travels.
The judge's decision allowed Blanchard to continue working/serving at Rock Church locations other than the one in Virginia Beach from which he "stepped back" from his duties after his arrest.
New details emerge from Blanchard's court documents
In February, 13News Now took a look at available court documents on Blanchard's travels.
There were about 10 requests for travel between November 2021 and February to states such as Ohio, West Virginia, Georgia, Florida and Pennsylvania. The documents said the travel deals with a company called "Zion Solutions" and not Rock Church.
Blanchard's attorney asked the judge to continue Blanchard's hearing, saying there are "evidentiary issues" with the case, but he would not go into further detail as to why.
He was expected back in court for his preliminary hearing on March 22.
Hearing postponed for Blanchard
In April, after a few court appearances where the prosecutor and Brooks went back and forth on what evidence can be used in the court case, attorneys told the judge they needed time to come up with a resolution.
The judge granted the attorneys about two months to sort out how they want the case to move forward. If a judge denied the agreement between the attorneys, the prosecutor would bring in witnesses to testify in the next court hearing.
This postponement would go on several more times. Read more about it here.
Charges dropped against Blanchard
On Oct. 11, 2022, the court hearing in Chesterfield lasted only a matter of seconds.
The prosecutor told the judge that after reviewing the charges, the case would be nolle pros. That meant the charges would be dropped, but could be refiled again at a later date if prosecutors felt they had enough evidence against Blanchard to move forward.
Blanchard's attorney would only say he was "pleased with the outcome" of the case.
Blanchard speaks for first time since charges dropped
Blanchard addressed the situation in front of the Rock Church congregation Sunday for the first time since having his charges dropped.
He called the charges and allegations against him "demonstrably false."
He also said he plans to take legal action against "organizations that intend to destroy our church."
Attorney files to expunge records
Online court records show the attorney for Virginia Beach Pastor John Blanchard, who was accused of attempted solicitation of a minor, filed a motion on December 12, 2022 to expunge his criminal records.
The Chesterfield Commonwealth's Attorney's Office remarked on December 29 in court records that they had "no objection" to the request to expunge criminal records in Blanchard's case.
This means that if Blanchard is arrested in the future, a judge cannot take his previous arrest into consideration.
The Chesterfield County Circuit Court Clerk told 13News Now in January 2023 that the expungement is not yet finalized because the office is still waiting on a response from the judge handling this request.
Chesterfield CA says 'new information' has come to light
Chesterfield County Commonwealth’s Attorney Stacey Davenport said on January 19 that her office had received new information in the case against John Blanchard.
In light of the new information, she announced her intention to request a special prosecutor to handle this case.
"Due to the repeated public comments and unfounded political attacks levied upon my office by both Chesterfield County Police Chief Jeffery Katz and Delegate Tim Anderson, I cannot ethically make any decisions on whether or not this new information should impact future prosecutorial decisions in this matter," Davenport said.
Documents detail new evidence against Pastor Blanchard
The documents come from State Del. Tim Anderson's office, which he says he received through the Freedom of Information Act. The documents include a mix of emails between prosecutors and Chesterfield County police.
One of the records is an email from a prosecutor with the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office. The prosecutor said his colleague handling the Blanchard case told him Blanchard's attorney offered a resolution with the court, saying Blanchard would take part in the equivalent to sex offender-related counseling.
He went on to write that the prosecutor set aside the charges against Blanchard because, "he advised that they felt we wouldn't get anything out of a misdemeanor conviction, and the better outcome was that Blanchard receive the sex offender counseling, which contained components of a psychosexual evaluation."
The documents did not state if Blanchard followed through with that counseling or where exactly he would receive that counseling.
Special prosecutor named
In February of 2023, 13News Now learned that the special prosecutor is William Blaine Jr. with the Brunswick County Commonwealth's Attorney's Office.
This comes as the Chesterfield Commonwealth's Attorney's Office filed paperwork asking a judge to remove their agreement to expunge Blanchard's records in court.
In the documents we received through State Delegate Tim Anderson's Office, Blanchard's attorney argued against the motion, saying the Chesterfield Commonwealth's Attorney missed the deadline to remove that agreement.
A judge has yet to make a decision on the expungement requests.
Criminal charges will not be re-filed
June 2023: 13News Now has learned John Blanchard will not be charged again with solicitation of prostitution, according to a letter the special prosecutor sent to the Chesterfield Circuit Court judge.
Court documents obtained by 13News Now state that Blaine called Chesterfield County police's investigation a "sound case," saying the case was handled well by all parties.
Regarding the new evidence discovered by detectives to help re-open the investigation, Blaine wrote, "While there is 'new evidence,' in my respectful opinion, that 'new evidence,' to the extent it is even admissible, does not change the overall, final analysis in this case."
Blaine continued in the letter by saying in the emails regarding plea discussions, the government, "already had a case against Defendant."
He said despite the sound case supported by the police department, the government took the matter under advisement and allowed Blanchard to submit to counseling from more than one counselor while the case was continued in court.