Doug King accepted a job with the Wythe County Sheriff’s Office in 1983 to see if he could make it in law enforcement. He did so well moving through the ranks over time that he was elected sheriff three times.
“I was curious,” said the Wythe County native who is retiring Dec. 31 after 29 ½ years. “Wayne Pike offered me a job and I wondered whether or not I could do it.”
So, on July 1, 1983, King accepted the offer from then Sheriff Pike. Beginning as a jailer, he was later promoted to patrol deputy.
In 1993, King moved into investigations which he calls “a pretty interesting job and quite a departure from patrol officer.” He remained an investigator when Kermit Osborne was elected sheriff in 1999 and promoted King to chief deputy.
When Osborne took early retirement in 2005, King was appointed sheriff until the election in November 2005. Completing the two years left in Osborne’s term, King ran successfully for a four-year term in November 2007.
Re-elected again in 2011, King chose not to complete the four-year-term ending in December 2015. His chief deputy Keith Dunagan will be appointed sheriff by a Wythe County Circuit Court judge until a new sheriff is elected in November 2015.
In the beginning
A graduate of Fort Chiswell High School, King studied economics at the University of Virginia but never earned a degree. He spent several years working in retail, including a sporting goods store in Richmond.
His early years with the sheriff’s office were spent at the old Wythe County Jail built in 1929 on Monroe Street. The old jail closed in 1998 when Wythe County joined the New River Valley Jail in Dublin and the building was demolished in 2013.
King pointed out he worked in three different locations during his time in office. The sheriff’s office moved to the basement of the Wythe County Circuit Court in the late 1970s with separate offices for investigators.
In 2000, the sheriff’s office relocated to the Law Enforcement Center at the courthouse complex. It is equipped with a lockup that includes five holding cells where prisoners can be held for up to 24 hours.
Wythe County joined the New River Valley Jail Authority in 1998 and closed the old jail. Sheriff King serves on the authority board.
Times of change
During his years of service, King witnessed many changes – good and bad – in the department. He listed extensive training and improved equipment as the best.
“We hear a lot of complaints about patrolmen not being trained adequately,” the sheriff said. “That is just not true. We have more and better training now. All officers have to complete the state law enforcement exam and complete a two and a half month field training standard. I have to sign off on that. I’d put my department up against any other one in the country when it comes to training.”
King supervises a staff of 65, including courthouse security providers, school resource officers, D.A.R.E. officer, patrolmen, investigators, civil support staff and communications workers. His department gave up 911 calls when the town and county went online in May 2013 with a central dispatch center.
The sheriff’s office has five African-American employees and 13 female workers. There are no female patrol deputies at this time but the office has had them in the past.
“We have a lot of veterans in the department,” Sheriff reported. “They tend to make good officers. They’re disciplined and used to taking orders.”
King served on the transition team that replaced revolvers with semi-automatic pistols for use by officers. Video cameras in patrol cars, radio-equipped vehicles and portable radar units were mentioned by King as major improvements for the department.
“When I started, we had to buy our own uniforms, shoes, firearms, flashlight, baton and handcuffs,” the sheriff said. “That’s all furnished now.”
Tragedy strikes the department
Losing an officer in the line of duty, according to King, is the worst job-related experience he has ever had. The sheriff and his department devote themselves to keeping the memory of Deputy Cliff Dicker alive.
On Dec. 6, 1994, Dicker was serving a warrant on a Wytheville teenager. He was ambushed by the youth who shot him twice, killing him.
“It’s been 20 years ago and I still can’t talk about it without getting emotional,” the sheriff said. “My own safety and the safety of the officers are always on my mind.”
The sheriff’s office provides a scholarship each year to a senior from the county’s three high schools pursuing a career in law enforcement.
A memorial blood drive through the American Red Cross is sponsored by the sheriff’s office, too.
A memorial has been erected at the New River Trail. A section of State Route 100 was named for Dicker, a resident of the Barren Springs area at the time of his death.
End of an era
King refers to being sheriff as a young man’s job. On call 24 hours a day seven days a week, he said, brings an unbelievable amount of stress that never leaves.
“I’m not a young many anymore,” the sheriff noted. “I’m young between my ears but not on the top of my head. I was 31 when I started in law enforcement, which is actually late. I’ve always said when it comes to the point I can’t give the job 100 percent, it’s time to go. I have found I have limitations now.”
Sheriff King attributes the success of his department to his employees. They adhere to his philosophy of hard work, honesty and treating people fairly, according to him.
“They have good presence in the community, too,” King said. “They police their own community. The majority of my staff lives here. They care about the other people living here.”
A good working relationship with the Virginia State Police and the Wytheville Police Department is something King wants to see continued.
“Doug has always been a fair individual,” said Wytheville Police Chief Rick Arnold. “He cares about his people and it shows.”
An avid outdoorsman, King enjoys hunting and fishing. He’s a firearms specialist and has been training in long-range field shooting.
“Fishing is what I do when there’s nothing to hunt,” King added. “I’m planning to do more.”
The sheriff also wants to spend more time with his family. He is married to the former Teresa Dalton of Pulaski, a Radford University employee in the international studies department.
He has three adult children: Staci K. Dennis, a vice president of Lowe’s in Mooresville, North Carolina; Taylor King of Wythe County, a lead II welding inspector for contractors; and Bre Ann King, an elementary school teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina. King also has five grandchildren and one stepgrandchild, ranging in ages eight to three months.
A member of the Ivanhoe Masonic Lodge since 1979, King serves as the organization’s treasurer. He is an associate member of the Wytheville Lions Club and is trustee of the Max Meadows Ruritan Club.
“I’m looking forward to this,” he said. “I have other things to do.”
Wayne Quesenberry can be reached at 228-6611 Extension 20 or email@example.com.