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People drive by the Williamsburg-James City County Courthouse in New Town every day, not giving any thought to what is going on inside the building, but for Williamsburg-James City County Sheriff Robert J. Deeds, that’s his job.
Deeds is just wrapping up the first year of his fifth term as sheriff at the courthouse, which houses the Circuit Court, General District Court, Juvenile & Domestic Relations District Court and their clerks’ offices; the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office; and the Sheriff’s Office.
“There is a lot that goes on in this place every day,” Deeds said. “It’s a busy place, and an interesting place.”
Deeds oversees a team of 17 deputies, sergeants, and other staff members whose first call of duty is to keep everyone safe within the building, especially when court is in session.
“Making sure the courthouse and the courtrooms are safe and secure is our number one priority,” said Deeds. Deputies are constantly monitoring the comings and goings of everyone at the courthouse through a set of cameras placed both around the interior and exterior of the building.
There are six courtrooms. On most days, only two are in use, though sometimes cases are heard in as many as four courtrooms simultaneously, requiring extra security and the need for on-call deputies.
The modern security measures at the current Williamsburg-James City County Courthouse, which opened in the spring of 2000, are a far cry from the original courthouse that once stood in downtown Williamsburg.
When Deeds was first elected sheriff, he worked for a few months in the old courthouse. Prisoners, even those charged with violent crimes, had to pass through the same hallway as the general public to enter a courtroom.
“That building was not designed with security in mind,” Deeds recalled. “It was not an ideal situation.”
When the current courthouse opened, Deeds described it as state of the art with all the cameras, monitors, and equipment. Defendants are now brought into a courtroom through a secure location that is separate from everyone else.
Deeds’ office is also responsible for the delivery of civil and criminal court documents, including summons, subpoenas, eviction notices, and the like. More than 25,000 pieces of paper come through his office each year. Deeds takes care of the paperwork and background checks associated with concealed hand weapon permits.
“In my observation, it seems more seniors and more ladies are applying for them,” Deeds said. “That seems to be the trend. I am not sure why.”
A handful of capital cases have come through the courthouse, most notably Jerry Terrell Jackson, who was executed in 2011 after being convicted of the robbery, rape, and murder of an elderly woman in Williamsburg ten years prior. Deeds was one of the witnesses to Jackson’s execution.
“That was a unique experience,” he said.
Deeds grew up in the Charlottesville area and joined the Virginia State Police after a stint with the Marine Reserves. He spent the early part of his law enforcement career working traffic offenses as a state trooper and retired in 1996 after thirty years. He and his wife, Connie, and their three children have called Williamsburg home since 1976.
Deeds, a graduate of the School of Police Staff and Command at the Northwestern University Traffic Institute, worked for a few years as a substitute teacher (“My buddies liked to call me Kindergarten Cop,” he said with a laugh.), and started the Patriot Driving School before deciding to run for sheriff.
“I was fortunate to be elected,” he said. “It worked out, and here I am.”
The sheriff’s office also provides other services to the community, including fingerprinting; Notary Public services; Project Child Safe, which provides a gun safety kit and information about safe gun handling and storage to gun owners; and Operation Share, in which deputies serve a Thanksgiving meal to senior citizens and others in need in the community. This will be the 17th year of Operation Share.
“We have people who come back every year,” Deeds said. “They have a great time, and we enjoy doing it. It’s always a great day. After all these years, I still look forward to coming to work. I know that sounds trite, but it is true. We have a great staff here. Everyone chips in and does what needs to be done.”
Read more profiles of local residents in WYDaily’s new section In Our Hometown.