In Oct. 2021, Virginia pastor John Blanchard was one of 17 men arrested in connection with a prostitution sting, and he was subsequently charged with solicitation of prostitution from a minor. While his charges were tentatively dropped a year later in Oct. 2022, prosecutors and police have apparently been at odds over whether Blanchard should be brought to trial.
While prosecutors have the right to refile charges against Blanchard if they feel they have enough evidence to convict, it does not appear at this juncture that they intend to do so.
Blanchard was previously accused of sexually assaulting a former assistant who had worked for him at Rock Church International in Virginia Beach, where he has been lead pastor since 2013. He was acquitted of those charges in 2019.
With regard to the case of Blanchard’s 2021 arrest and the prosecutor’s dropping of his charges, Virginia State Delegate Tim Anderson, who represents Virginia Beach and is also a lawyer, has been sharply critical.
“In my legal opinion, from what I have seen, there’s no excuse not to prosecute this case,” Anderson said in Nov. 2022. “If [Blanchard is] found not guilty or if he’s acquitted, that’s one thing. But to use prosecutorial discretion and say nothing happened here, that’s, in my opinion, an abuse of discretion.”
At that time, local police chief Col. Jeffrey Katz refrained from criticizing prosecutors, saying, “The decision to prosecute—or not prosecute—a case rests with the County’s elected Commonwealth Attorney. The only person who can bring clarity to this decision is the person who made it. It would be irresponsible for anyone to speculate on such an important decision.”
Nevertheless, Katz has been less supportive of prosecutors with regard to how Blanchard’s request to have his criminal record expunged has been handled.
In December 2022, during his first appearance on the stage of Rock Church since his 2021 arrest, Blanchard not only defended his innocence to the congregation but pledged to “recover” the “good name” of Rock Church in the community by “moving forward with legal action.”
Soon after these remarks, Blanchard filed his expungement petition. While the court has not ruled on the petition, Chesterfield County Commonwealth Attorney Stacey Davenport has “no objection” to it.
In light of the possibility of Blanchard’s request being approved, Katz weighed in with criticism for how Blanchard’s case has played out.
“AS A MATTER OF PRINCIPLE,” Katz said in a statement published to Facebook, “I have found it necessary to make a few public statements regarding the arrest of Pastor John Blanchard. These statements have consistently reinforced my fervent support for the quality of the case and the investigative efforts of my staff. That has not changed.”
Katz continued, “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.”