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UPDATE: On July 1, Va. Sheriffs Can Expand Their Fashion Options

Sunday, April 3, 2005; Page C02

Anew era of fashion freedom is on the horizon for Virginia sheriffs. Starting July 1, they will be able to dress their deputies in somber grays, muted blues or even tropical prints, if they feel so inclined. In other words, they will not be busted for not choosing brown.

The General Assembly passed legislation this year that tosses out a 1960s law requiring sheriffs and their deputies to wear dark brown shirts and taupe trousers. Under the new rules, Virginia sheriffs will be allowed to dress their forces however they please.

"The General Assembly should not be micromanaging the color of deputies' uniforms," said Sen. William C. Mims (R-Loudoun), who sponsored a bill that aimed to relax the uniform law.

Another version of the bill, sponsored by Del. Robert D. "Bobby" Orrock Sr. (R-Spotsylvania) passed and was signed by Gov. Mark R. Warner (D). "We just agreed to get out of the business of uniform colors," Mims said.

The change is good news for the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office, which adopted tan shirts and brown cargo pants in November. That switch was motivated by economics and practicality, Sheriff Stephen O. Simpson said at the time. The new uniforms were cheaper and sturdier, he said.

And though they did not follow the letter of the uniform law, Simpson said he figured they fit under an exception, which allowed for variations if the standard uniforms prevented sheriffs or their deputies from performing their jobs. Unbeknown to him, then-Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R) had opined on the law recently, and his interpretation was rigid: No exceptions, except perhaps for bomb squads and undercover cops.

After hearing about the opinion from a Washington Post reporter, Simpson conferred with Mims about getting the law changed. The sheriff consulted his counterparts, some of whom also had not outfitted their deputies according to code. They wanted a new law, too, Loudoun sheriff's spokesman Kraig Troxell said.

The uniform story is not over, however. When Sterling resident Edward R. Myers got wind of the shaky legal status of the uniforms -- which Loudoun deputies have continued to wear -- he filed a civil suit against Simpson, noting the sheriff's "willful disregard for the law."

Myers has tussled with Loudoun government in court before. Opposed to the Pledge of Allegiance, he sued the county school system, and he was convicted of trespassing and tampering after he went on school grounds at night and put a sticker featuring the image of a burning American flag on his child's school bus.

Simpson filed a motion to dismiss the uniform suit, which was denied in March by retired Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge J. Howe Brown. The judge allowed the case to proceed, but he threw out Myers's claim for $1.1 million in punitive and compensatory damages.

The sheriff has since filed another motion to dismiss the case, Troxell said. No court date has been set. Myers said he will press on, though he said the publicity surrounding the lawsuit and Simpson's response already constitute a partial victory.

In the meantime, deputies have gotten quite used to their new duds. "They all love them now," Troxell said.

-- Karin Brulliard


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