CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- A special prosecutor saw nothing wrong with how the Chesterfield Commonwealth's Attorney's Office handled the case of a pastor who was accused by police of soliciting prostitution from a minor.
John Blanchard, the pastor of Rock Church in Virginia Beach, was arrested by Chesterfield Police in October 2021 in a sex sting operation. Police alleged that Blanchard travelled two hours to meet an underage girl, whom he found through a sex-worker website, at a Chesterfield County hotel. That underage girl was actually an undercover detective.
Blanchard was charged with felony solicitation of prostitution.
But Chesterfield Commonwealth's Attorney Stacey Davenport nolle prossed, or dismissed, the charges in the fall of 2022, meaning she declined to prosecute the case. When charges are nolle prossed, they can still be brought back, but that rarely happens.
She publicly cited a lack of evidence as her reasoning.
Internal emails from her office later revealed prosecutors were concerned that Blanchard never acknowledged the age of the "minor" before showing up to meet. The emails also showed that Davenport made a deal with Blanchard's defense attorney that he would get counseling.
Davenport's decision was questioned by Chesterfield Police Chief Jeffrey Katz who defended his department's investigation in public statements. He said it was "bewildering" for Davenport to agree to seal police and court records in the case.
Davenport was also criticized by Delegate Tim Anderson, who has continuously blasted Davenport on his social media pages.
In January 2023, Davenport announced that new evidence in Blanchard's case came to light. In an internal email, Katz said the evidence "incontrovertibly validates police assertions that Blanchard knowingly sought to engage in sex with an underage girl."
But Davenport said she could not prosecute the case due to "political attacks" from Katz and Anderson.
So, she asked for a special prosecutor to be assigned to the case. Judge David Johnson, who slammed Davenport and Katz for being "irresponsible" and "self-righteous" during their dispute over the case, assigned it to the office of Brunswick County Commonwealth's Attorney Bill Blaine.
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On June 2, in a letter to Chesterfield judges, Blaine announced he would not be reinstating criminal charges against Blanchard.
In his initial review of the case, Blaine said, "Nothing strikes me as unusual about how things played out in court."
Blaine said his task was to determine whether the new evidence should lead to prosecution being reinitiated.
The Brunswick prosecutor did not elaborate on what the new evidence contained, but he said it was "impressive" that Chesterfield Police uncovered the evidence and that police did an "excellent" job in their investigation. He said the police built a "sound" case.
Blaine said that probable cause existed to reinstate charges against Blanchard, but he didn't determine whether there was proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
"Prosecutors are trained to look for proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Because of what will be discussed below, we need not really reach the academic answer as to whether proof beyond a reasonable doubt can be presented to a trier of fact that Defendant committed the alleged crimes," Blaine wrote.
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He added that the new evidence does not change the overall final analysis in the case and that Blanchard has lived up to his part of the initial "unwritten plea agreement."
Blaine said depriving a person of his liberty is not something to take lightly and that Blanchard was already deprived of his liberty once when he was arrested the first time.
He added he can only count on one hand in his 25 years of experience the number of cases in which a nolle prossequi was entered and he reinstated charges. He would need a "compelling" reason to do so.
He said the "government doesn't get a do-over."
"In this case, the government got its bite at the apple. The Chesterfield [Office of the Commonwealth's Attorney], an office elected by the people of Chesterfield, resolved the case in the district court how that office saw fit. As I mentioned earlier, although I am not tasked with reviewing that resolution, I saw nothing that raised my eyebrows in how this case was handled," Blaine wrote.
He added, "So this conclusion begs the question of what recourse does an aggrieved citizen have if the government doesn't get a second bite at the prosecution apple? The answer is in the political arena through democratic processes. If enough people are not satisfied with a particular outcome, there are political remedies to change members of the executive, legislative and even judicial branches."
Chesterfield Commonwealth's Attorney Stacey Davenport had no comment.
Chesterfield Police Chief Jeffrey Katz wrote in a statement, “The Brunswick Commonwealth’s Attorney validated what I’ve publicly said all along — the Chesterfield County Police Department conducted a competent and compelling investigation. This was never about politics — it was about standing up for men and women doing high-quality work on behalf of others.”
John Blanchard's Defense Attorney Noel Brooks said, "I'm pleased with the outcome."
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