Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry retires this week after nearly 17 years in the job, and 30 years in the sheriff's office. Photo by Dean-Paul Stephens.

Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry’s retirement announcement, back in March, came as a surprise to many. He has served as sheriff for the better part of 17 years, and many simply assumed he would run again when his current term ends in December. 

“It has been a pleasure serving and I am very thankful for all of the working relationships that have helped me succeed in my career,” Perry wrote in his official retirement announcement. “I wish the absolute best for the citizens and the County as I look forward to what God has in store in front of me.”

What Perry didn’t reveal in his statement was the role his faith played in his decision to not run for reelection. 

“I kind of felt the path was bending [toward retirement],” Perry said. “This was God’s way of telling me it’s time.” 

Now in the waning days of his tenure, Perry offers a glimpse into his thoughts about his career, the office as it now exists and the thought process that led to his decision to retire.

“I didn’t really realize the impact [being sheriff] gave,” Perry said the Wednesday before his July 1 retirement. 

As he spent the morning cleaning out his office to make way for his replacement, Capt. Wayne Davis, who will serve as sheriff until the next election, Perry appeared contemplative. An officer since 1993, Perry fondly reflected on his time as sheriff. 

“I’ve never had to hurt anyone,” Perry said. “I never had to walk an officer to his grave.” 

Perry is grateful for what he described as a relatively uncontroversial tenure, one in which he and his deputies could focus on the business of law enforcement. This, however, wasn’t always the case, as the beginning of Perry’s time as sheriff was mired in controversy inherited from his predecessor. 

In 2006, then-Sheriff Harold Cassell and more than a dozen Henry County deputies were arrested and charged with racketeering. It was the culmination of a five-year-long investigation into the Henry County Sheriff’s Office. 

At the time, Perry was a captain, a position he had held for only two months. Perry spoke about the transition from deputy to sheriff and admitted that the suddenness of Cassell’s arrest and conviction made the transition difficult. 

“My time was very short as captain,” Perry said, explaining that typically, being placed in the role of captain is the first taste of management for most officers. He added that to outside observers, it might have appeared he wasn’t ready for the position. 

Perry said he leaned heavily on his prior experience. He first became a Henry County deputy in 1993, at the start of his law enforcement career. He held a number of key leadership positions, including in drugs and investigations. He had just been promoted to the rank of captain when investigators brought charges against his predecessor.  

While he admits that at the time he felt overwhelmed by the new role, that quickly changed as he went about making sure that the sheriff’s office wouldn’t be susceptible again to scandal. To this end, Perry said, the integrity of his deputies is one of two guiding posts.  

“I work with people’s strengths,” Perry said. “If someone is unethical or immoral we part ways with them. You can’t do it all by yourself, especially if you’re rebuilding and putting good people in good places.”

Perry added that his faith was the other important factor. 

“God gave me a very powerful testimony,” Perry said. “He helped me, shielded me and helped me learn.” 

Perry said things don’t always work out as hoped. Several years before he became sheriff, the community reeled from the murder of the three members of the Short family, which remains an unsolved case. Perry said that even though he wasn’t sheriff at the time, the case is still his responsibility, which is why he hasn’t allowed it to become a cold case. 

“That is a case that is still worked on,” Perry said, adding that he believes the case is solvable. “I do believe there is one or two people out there in the county with key information that they are not sharing with us.” 

Perry knows that the investigation that led to his predecessor’s arrest cast a large shadow over the department, but he believes that the ensuing goodwill his officers have fostered have made up for it. He said focusing on rehabilitating the sheriff’s office’s relationship with Henry County was one of the key goals he feels he has made strides in. 

“We have maintained our integrity in our community relationships,” Perry said, alluding to the summer of 2020 to illustrate his point. 

Perry said Henry County deputies maintained their professionalism during a time when mistrust between police and the communities they operate in peaked. 

“We made it through the controversial times and we kept serving our citizens,” Perry said.

The opening of the county’s new Adult Detention Center was another accomplishment, he said. “Those are monumental feats that the team achieved and it really was a lot of work, on top of the normal needs of the community,” he said.

County officials agree. In a brief ceremony at their recent regular session, Henry County supervisors passed a resolution congratulating Perry on his years of service. 

“He has served with the utmost character, representing the values of respect, honor and duty,” reads the county’s resolution. 

Several supervisors echoed the resolution. 

“He’s done a decent job,” said Supervisor Joe Bryant. “Being a sheriff, I’m sure, is a difficult thing to do.” 

Supervisor Debra Buchanan said Perry was a longtime asset to the community. 

“I think Sheriff Perry did an outstanding job,” Buchanan said, adding that his retirement is well-deserved.  

Perry, who is 54, said that he plans on continuing to be a presence within Henry County, though he did not specify in what way.

As he packed up various trinkets, he offered a piece of wisdom to both Davis and whoever wins the upcoming race for sheriff. He said it’s important to not get distracted. 

“Care about people, listen to people, resolve conflicts for people and don’t get distracted by things that don’t matter,” Perry said. “You might see stuff on social media but keep the main thing the main thing.”   

Davis is looking forward to carrying the torch. 

“I’m really excited about it,” Davis said. “There is a great responsibility to the deputies at the Henry County Sheriff’s Office and a great responsibility to serve and protect every citizen in this community. That is something I don’t take lightly.” 

Davis said he has the advantage of a good example. 

“It was great working with Sheriff Perry, I consider him a good mentor,” Davis said. “He not only restored the reputation of the Henry County Sheriff’s Office, he restored the trust from this community.” 

Dean-Paul Stephens is a reporter for Cardinal News. He is based in Martinsville. Reach him at dean@cardinalnews.org...