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From classroom to crime scene

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Deputy Miranda Davis says her law enforcement career started in a class taught by J.B. Gardner — now the sheriff and her boss.

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

 

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HILLSVILLE — Her studies completed, the next time Carroll Deputy Miranda Davis examines a crime scene for clues, it will be a part of a real investigation.
And her former criminal justice teacher — who created bloody scenes of mock violence at Carroll County High School as an educational tool — is now her boss.
Sheriff J.B. Gardner, along with other personnel decisions, hired Davis away from her post at the New River Valley Regional Jail to patrol Carroll County’s roads, to provide security in the courtroom and to serve civil court papers.
The 2006 Carroll County High School grad from the Sylvatus-Mitchells Crossroads area gives the new sheriff credit for setting her on the path to becoming a law enforcement officer.
Soon after enrolling her senior year in criminal justice at CCHS, a career and technical class, with the then-school resource officer, Davis quickly decided what her career would be.
“It was probably after the first week of his class,” she recalled. “We were just learning so many different things. He made you think.”
Gardner made the class so interesting. She recalls “serial killer week,” where students learned what made that particular kind of criminal, finding out their patterns, what kind of victims they went after and even what made them so violent.
They also studied what they could learn at crime scenes from the way blood splatters, she remembered. The way the drops formed told students whether the victim was standing still or running while they bled.
That had the side effect of helping her with deer hunting, Davis said.
Gardner had his students conduct searches after serving warrants, looking for contraband, Davis said. “You always left the room feeling like you didn’t find everything.”
Students learned to collect evidence, process it, enclose it in sealed bags to keep it intact for clues, she remembered. They learned to take photographs of crime scenes.
At the end of the course, Gardner set up a bunch of crime scenes for the students to investigate.
“I know everybody wanted to take his class and he only took a few,” Davis said. “I mean, it was a big deal to take J.B.’s class.
“The kids at the high school absolutely loved J.B. as resource officer — even the ones he had to get onto liked him.”
After graduating, Davis took more steps toward her career goal at Wytheville Community College. She earned an associate degree in police science and then did an internship at the sheriff’s office.
The internship introduced her to serving civil process papers, courtroom procedures and dispatching.
“It was a good opportunity to look and see what I was getting into... other than writing tickets,” Davis said. “To see if it was an opportunity that I wanted.”
Davis also put herself through the New River Criminal Justice Academy.
This need became clear after she applied to other departments and heard that other candidates who already had the training were getting hired.
Davis went through patrol training at the academy. The 22 weeks of training had a military feel, especially since the cadets were punished as a group with push ups for any infraction, like having a brown belt instead of the required black.
Davis’ offense was going outside without wearing a cap.
“But by the second day, I had it worked out pretty good because I didn’t want to do any more pushups.”
Working at the regional jail for a year, Davis applied to the Carroll Sheriff’s Office because she wanted to come back home.
The jail wasn’t what she trained for.
From her internship here, she learned the county department felt like a family and a great place to work.
“This is my dream job and where I ideally wanted to go,” Davis said. “Everybody wants to work for their hometown.”
Davis believes that Gardner will make a good sheriff, just like he made a good resource officer and teacher.
“If I hadn’t taken his class I wouldn’t be here right now,” she said.
Gardner said he’s excited about the fact that several students from his classes have found careers in law enforcement-related fields.
Besides Davis, he knows of several who went on from the criminal justice class to be police officers, a probation officer and even a counselor in a prison.
Another former student, Joe Utt, used to play on the soccer team that Gardner coached. The new sheriff hired him from the South Boston Police Department.
He knows of former students who have gone into the military and did several tours of duty, while others are still going through college programs.
Former CCHS principal Robbie Patton, who pushed for the criminal justice class, insisted that the class show students they had a lot of career opportunities ahead of them, the sheriff recalled. The class at that time also qualified for college credit.
Gardner got to know Davis and Utt through school, and he already has a solid rapport with them.
“It’s exciting to see them do something that they really wanted to do,” the sheriff said. “When she was in class, I didn’t know that I would ever be sheriff in this county.
“It’s kind of cool when they grow up on you like that. Makes me feel old though. They’re still young in my eyes, but they’re getting older.”