Goochland County Sheriff James Agnew has been in his job for 27 years, and he has just one more year to go until he retires.
A lot can happen in just a year in the growing rural county.
“I’ve enjoyed this job. I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s a hard job, but it’s fascinating,” Agnew said in a recent interview in his office. “You never know from one day to the next what’s going to happen.”
To highlight that point, the outgoing sheriff rattled off a list of high-profile cases his office has dealt with just within the past year.
There was the December 2017 death of 22-year-old Bethany Lynn Stephens, who Goochland sheriff’s investigators concluded died after being mauled by her two dogs. But as online speculation spread that someone may have been responsible for her death, Agnew held a news conference in the days following to push back at rumors that her death was the result of foul play. The sheriff said in February that he was closing the investigation after the state medical examiner’s office said Stephens died from “trauma due to mauling by animals.”
Then, there was the case of Troy George Skinner, a 25-year-old New Zealand man who Goochland authorities said traveled across the world this past June to the home of a 14-year-old Goochland girl whom authorities believe he had met online. Authorities say the girl’s mother shot Skinner while he allegedly was breaking into the home. Skinner now faces federal charges that accuse him of being involved in the production of child pornography and “coercion and enticement” of a minor. Skinner, who was shot in the neck, was found to be in possession of duct tape, pepper spray and a camouflage folding clip knife.
“All this brought national and international attention to a little place that has been a backwater for a long time,” Agnew said.
Agnew, 65, said during the interview at his office that the high-profile cases over the past year were not what caused him to announce in August that he was retiring when his term ends in December 2019 after seven terms as sheriff.
“It reaffirmed my decision that had been previously made,” Agnew said.
Just days after the interview, Agnew’s office was again in the spotlight as he fired one of his sheriff’s deputies, Jason Anderson, on Monday amid charges that Anderson, who had worked as a school resource officer, had assaulted his wife and raped another female in Powhatan. Agnew said in a release that “We are all disturbed, disgusted and angry after hearing about Anderson’s actions.”
The sheriff said retirement has been on his mind since he was elected to his current term three years ago. Agnew said he doesn’t feel like he had the energy he once did and simply feels it’s time to move into retirement after a 41-year law enforcement career. Before serving as sheriff, Agnew worked for 14 years as a game warden for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
John W. Jones, the executive director of the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association, said Agnew is going to be missed by members of the association, adding that he regards the Goochland sheriff as a model for “integrity and professionalism.”
“I think he’s fulfilled his career,” Jones said. “When you’ve done as much as Jim has, you have the amount of respect he has — you’re there. [It’s] time to move on.”
Agnew said the most interesting case his office handled was the 2005 murder of Jason Patrick Carr, a 27-year-old carpet store owner who was shot in the back. Agnew recalled how he went with investigators to Richmond International Airport where they apprehended James Garland Mann for Carr’s killing. Mann, convicted of murder in 2006, was arrested while getting off a flight after returning from Russia, where he had tried unsuccessfully to get a Russian bride, Agnew said. The sheriff recalled how Mann spotted authorities as he was leaving the plane.
“I said, ‘Mr. Mann, you’re under arrest,’ ” Agnew said.
Agnew said Goochland is much more developed than when he started as sheriff nearly three decades ago at a time when there were no stoplights in the county. Now, the county is home to Fortune 500 companies and apartment developments.
With development comes pressure to have the resources to patrol the growing county, Agnew said, adding that one thing he will not miss is the constant struggle for manpower and equipment that comes with the job.
“Although the local governing body here has been very supportive, it’s something that’s constant because a lot of growth pressure,” said Agnew, noting that the county is seeing spillover development from the Short Pump area. “Trying to feel like we’re prepared for the future is just sort of a constant nagging thing that has to be done. ... We need more folks on patrol. Ours is a manpower-intensive business.”
The sheriff’s office, which has an annual operating budget of roughly $5 million, has an authorized strength of 34 full-time deputies and four part-time deputies, said Agnew, adding that the office currently has several vacancies. Being sheriff means early-morning phone calls about crimes or other problems in the county.
“I learned early on that I wanted to be notified of things that happened at night because I would find myself ... I’d go to a restaurant or the post office in the morning, I’d be asked about something that happened the night before,” he said.
One reason for stepping aside, Agnew said, is that he knows there are others who want to seek the sheriff’s job. Agnew noted that Sgt. Steven Creasey, who has been with the Goochland Sheriff’s Office for more than 23 years, is seeking the job. John Myers, chairman of the Goochland County Republican Committee, said former Richmond police officer Levin White has expressed interest in running as a Republican. Tina Winkler, a co-chair of the Goochland Democratic Committee, said local Democrats have not chosen a candidate at this point, but she added they may throw their support behind someone seeking the sheriff’s job.
Agnew said he doesn’t have any concrete plans for retirement, saying he may do some volunteer work and some gardening. The sheriff, who graduated from the University of Virginia and has a photo of U.Va.’s football stadium hanging on the wall above his computer, said he also plans to attend his alma mater’s sporting events.
The sheriff said he’s enjoyed working as a problem solver in the community during his tenure.
“If someone has a problem, an issue, I can devote resources to it and try to take care of the problem right now, and it’s nice to be able to do that in many instances,” Agnew said. “Someone’s got a problem in their neighborhood, or a terrible speeding problem or a problem with a neighbor, and you can go and take care of it and hopefully solve the issue for them. So it’s nice to be able to do that.”