|BC Graduate, Sheriff Richard Vaughan|
A gentleman of 46 from Fries, Virginia, Vaughan’s career in law enforcement spans 21 years, including stints as a conservation officer for New River Trail State Park and a sheriff’s deputy and later investigator for Wythe County. Since 2007, a year after he earned his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice through Bluefield College’s online degree program, he has served as sheriff of Grayson County, a duty that began with much drama right out of the gate with a triple homicide case involving suspect Freddie Hammer.
Killers don’t come much colder than Freddie Hammer, who is serving eight life sentences in Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap. He has admitted to more than a dozen murders, and may have committed up to 17.
But before all that, soon after the emergency call was dispatched, Vaughan, the new sheriff in town, was sitting at the suspect’s kitchen table, staring at this alleged serial killer dressed in an undershirt and boxer shorts. Known as a “mind-gamer,” Hammer was smart, and at this moment, pleasant and jovial. Just like any self-respecting con man, he was calmly detailing his alibi.
Unlucky for Hammer, Vaughan had completed excellent training at two community colleges, earned his criminal justice degree at Bluefield College, and trained at the Virginia Department of Forensic Science Academy. He knew how to conduct an effective investigation, collect evidence, and follow it all the way to conviction. Or, should we say, in this case, multiple convictions. Hammer’s eventual total was seven counts of capital murder.
After an initiation like that, one would expect to meet a sheriff who is gruff and jaded. Not so. Instead, Vaughan is cheerful and grounded and possesses the confidence that is expected from someone in law enforcement.
“I always try to treat people like I want to be treated,” said Vaughan. And there you have it. A short course for a survivor, in law enforcement and in life.
Vaughan is inspired by author Dave Grossman, who specializes in the study of the psychology of killing. He is a retired Army lieutenant colonel and has written three books advising soldiers and law enforcement officers how to make themselves psychologically “bulletproof.” Vaughan is also a religious man. He and his family are very active in his church, Fries Pentecostal Holiness Church. Vaughan and his wife, Amy, have two children.
Now in his second term as sheriff, Vaughan has reached another professional milestone. He has been elected president of the Virginia Sheriff’s Association (VSA), a professional trade association representing the interests of law enforcement and sheriffs’ offices in Virginia. An organization of 8,900 members, the VSA is the primary voice for Virginia sheriffs in the General Assembly on all matters relating to public safety. Some of its current priorities: salary increases for deputies, new police forces, drug forfeiture funding, minimum qualifications, legal defense, staffing standards, courtroom security, and retirement.
Freddie Hammer was proven to be a very dangerous criminal, and he wasn’t the last that Vaughan would encounter. If there is a silver lining to the story, it is that Vaughan and his colleagues are up to the challenge of keeping Virginians safe, bringing the guilty to justice, watching the backs of their own, and keeping their life in balance as they do it.
Original article by Bonnie Atwood for Capitol Connections, VCCQM.org.