Arlington County Celebrates 150 Years 

ACA Executive Director James A. Gondles addresses the Arlington County Virginia Sheriff’s Office’s 150th anniversary. Concurrently, Mr. Gondles, the former Sheriff of Arlington County, was on hand to acknowledge the 25th anniversary of the county’s jail opening. All of this took place May 7, 2019 and was part of the National Correctional Officers and Employees Week.

Arlington County started off the week celebrating and honoring National Correctional Officers and Employees Week, which is May 5-11, 2019, with a Wreath Laying Ceremony. On Tuesday, May 7, they celebrated Correctional Employees Week, the 150th Anniversary of the Arlington County Sheriff's Office, and the 25th Anniversary of the Arlington County Detention Facility with a ceremony at their detention facility. Arlington County was first presented with a County Proclamation by County Board Member Matt de Ferranti recognizing this week as Correctional Employees Week. Then they were presented with a State Proclamation by Delegate Patrick Hope and Senator Barbara Favola recognizing the 150th Anniversary of the ACSO and the 25th Anniversary of the ACDF. Former Sheriff Gondles, who was a driving force in the development of the ACDF, returned to be our Key Note Speaker.  They celebrated their staff with a carnival-themed Staff Appreciation lunch.

Keynote Speech

James A. Gondles, Jr.

Keynote Address

Arlington County Va. Sheriff’s Office Anniversary Celebration

May 7, 2019


The first Arlington County (Alexandria County) jail was housed next door to the County Courthouse in a stand-alone red brick building where the jailer lived as well. When the old courthouse added two wings, also red brick, the jail was moved onto the third floor above the wing that housed the Commissioner of the Revenue on Clarendon Blvd.

In the 1960’s old courthouse was demolished, and a new seven story blond brick courthouse was built. By the early 1970’s the jail was chronically crowded and clearly out of date. Sheriff J. Elwood Clements led an effort for a bond referendum for $4.5 M to construct a new police headquarters and a jail, which was completed and opened in 1974.

During my term as sheriff we added floors to the jail including a gymnasium and an outdoor recreation yard. Sheriff Arthur and a few of you will remember the kitchen being cleaned with ample enough water to constantly flood Police Chief Smokey Stover’s office one floor below the kitchen. And you may recall what I threatened to do with the water hose if Sam Habibi continued trying to drown the Police Chief.

Our jail in that location was never a workable site. Complaints were numerous including use of the outdoor recreation on the roof top. By the 1980’s it was apparent that, yet another jail needed to be built.

In the mid 1980’s we created a “Citizens Advisory Committee to the Sheriff’s Office. “The committee was co-chaired by Scott McGeary and Jim Hunter. Scott is, without question, the super guru of Arlington history and politics (followed closely by retired Treasurer Frank O’Leary).  Scott chaired the Arlington Republican Committee and today is a long-term member of the Arlington Electoral Board and the late Jim Hunter served ably on the Arlington County Board. Margo Horner, the Democratic Party Chair was a member of the committee, as was Rex Wackerle who was vice chair of the Republican Committee. John Youngs represented the Arlington Bar Association, Latrelle Parker represented Arlington’s African American Community and the legal community too and John Minno represented the law enforcement community (he was very high ranking in the FBI). John Youngs, Latrelle Parker and John Minno are no longer with us today.

With the able assistance of Scott, Jim, Margo, Rex and others we launched a campaign for construction of a new detention center. We raised money for ads in the newspaper, we printed sample ballots to hand out on election day, we campaigned in civic association meetings. On November 8, 1988, (during the presidential election) 40, 731 persons voted for the $35m referendum and 22,662 opposed it.

Then the Advisory Committee, Chief Deputy Tom Faust, Jail Director David Bogard and Administrator Director Beth Arthur went to work. We used the resources of the National Institute of Corrections, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the county government to explore all our options for a new state of the art facility.

The BOP had started a new concept for adult detention called “direct supervision.”

The concept was simple: put the correctional staff in direct communication and supervision with the inmates. All kinds of problems were reduced with this type of supervision: fights, contra-band, conflicts, assaults and arguments over tv as examples. Contra Costa, California was one of the first, if not the very first local jail to construct the direct supervision model after the BOP’s metropolitan detention centers. We visited that jail, jails in Buffalo, New York, prisons in the Florida panhandle and other places in an attempt to be the most efficient and effective in constructing Arlington’s new facility. The construction management team of Carter- Goble was hired long with Ron Budzinksi as the chief architect and a construction company.

Because our county is the smallest in area in the United States with just under 26 square miles, our footprint had to be small- thus a high-rise. Because we knew it would be tall and most likely a new courthouse would soon be a reality near it, we wanted the jail to look like an office building and fit into an urban landscape.

For the last 25 years this detention center has hosted visitors from across the nation and from across the globe. Arlington’s vision to build a detention facility that was humane, that cared about its staff and the residents of the facility became a reality and I’m proud to say this building, the professionals that work here, and the Sheriff  have met national standards and been accredited and reaccredited since its creation by the Commission on Accreditation for Corrections. Kudo’s to Sheriff Beth Arthur and the women and men of the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office.

For 150 years the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office has served its citizens- first as Alexandria County and then Arlington County. Alexandria County’s population was much smaller than Alexandria town, and the town voted to separate from the county. The first election of sheriff in 1869 saw I.C. O’Neil serve. The term at that time was three years. On November 4, 1873 Robert Davis Ruffin was elected sheriff. A former slave from King and Queen County he was quite possibly the first African American to serve as sheriff in Virginia. While serving only a few months he resigned and later was elected to the House of Delegates from Dinwiddie County. A total of 17 men and one woman have served in the office of Sheriff. Two, Howard Fields and Elwood Clements served non-consecutive terms. One, Richard A. Veitch has a street named after him. One, Carl Taylor died sitting at his desk in the courthouse that used to be across the street. Howard Fields died crossing Wilson Blvd and was hit by an automobile.

Two sheriffs were father and son- AC Clements and J. Elwood Clements.

Now I’ve mentioned Howard Fields and AC Clements. Perhaps the most bitter rivalry between two elected sheriffs came about from these two men. Howard Fields was elected sheriff of Alexandria County in 1915. In 1919 he ran for re-election and was defeated by A.C. Clements who took office in 1920, the same year Alexandria County became Arlington County due to a vote by Alexandria City to spilt from the county. Clements ran again in 1923 and was defeated by Fields. In 1927 they faced each other again with Fields prevailing and continuing to serve until 1944. Between these two men three and possibly four contested elections were held. History tells us that Fields has significant support from the Klu Klux Klan in all his elections. His brother was active in the Klan and many persons believed that Sheriff Fields was as well.

A.C. Clements was Catholic and was viewed as a reformer and anti-segregationist. He was closely allied with Commonwealth’s Attorney Frank Ball. Interestingly enough, his son, J. Elwood Clements was a reformer as well and left the sheriff’s office in 1951 to run for Commissioner of the Revenue against the Byrd Machine candidate. Clements lost that race and stayed out of politics for 12 years before returning to the Sheriff’s office in 1963, taking office 1964. For over eight years I had the honor of working for him.

When Sheriff Beth Arthur is re-elected on November 5, 2019, she will begin to surpass Howard Fields as the longest serving Sheriff in Arlington’s history for consecutive terms and she is on record to surpass his total number of years at the end of this coming term.

Elizabeth “Beth” Arthur is a leader among leaders as demonstrated by her election as President of the Virginia Sheriff’s Association. She is a compassionate, caring person who believes in second chances, in changing the course of someone’s life for a better way. The programs she as continued or began give residents of the detention center tools to not return to the justice system. During National Correctional Employees Week, the 234,965 persons including Betty Gondles and I who call Arlington County, Virginia, home are justly proud to call Elizabeth Arthur our sheriff.