CrimLaw asks: Are Sheriffs state or local government officials?
The answer in Virginia, for the most part is: state.
Virginia sheriffs sued in their official capacities are "state" rather than local government offices for purposes of the Eleventh Amendment and are not "persons" for purposes of section 1983. See Blankenship v. Warren County, 918 F. Supp. 970, 974 (W.D.Va. 1996), on reconsideration, 931 F. Supp. 447, 449 (W.D.Va. 1996) ("[T]he court concludes that the Sheriff and the Sheriff’s Department are arms of the Commonwealth of Virginia and that they, therefore, are entitled to invoke the defense of immunity from suit pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment") (Michael, J.); McCoy v. Chesapeake Correctional Center, 788 F. Supp. 890, 893 (E.D.Va. 1992) (Doumar, J.) (holding that city jail and sheriff department employees are state offices and officials for purposes of Will and the Eleventh Amendment; "[i]n Virginia, sheriffs are state officials, VA. CODE ANN. § 15.1-40.1 (1991), whose positions are constitutionally created, VA. CONST. ART. VII, § 7").
In a wide variety of contexts, the courts have held that Virginia sheriffs are state and not local officials. See Strickler v. Waters, 989 F.2d 1375, 1390 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 949 (1993) (Portsmouth, Va., sheriff not considered local official); Jenkins v. Weatherholtz, 909 F.2d 105 (4th Cir. 1990) ("In Virginia, a sheriff is an independent constitutional officer whose duties and authority are defined by statute"); Perdue v. Penalosa, 1994 WL 559140 (4th Cir. 1994) (unpublished per curiam) (city jail run by sheriff’s department not a "person" under Will as a state agency); Brickey v. Smyth County, 944 F. Supp. 1310 (W.D.Va. 1996) (Jones, J.) (deputy sheriffs are not county employees for purposes of the FLSA); Keathley v. Vitale, 866 F. Supp. 272, 276 (E.D.Va. 1994) (Clarke, J.) (Virginia Beach sheriff "is a 'constitutional officer' who serves "independent of municipal government"); Olivo v. Mapp, 838 F. Supp. 259, 261 (E.D.Va. 1993) (Virginia sheriff serves independent of state government and his duties prescribed by state statute); Himple v. Moore, 673 F. Supp. 758, 759 (E.D.Va. 1987) ("in Virginia, the sheriff is a constitutional officer who serves independent of county and city governments"); Sherman v. City of Richmond, 543 F. Supp. 447 (E.D.Va. 1982) (same); Hilton v. Amburgey, 198 Va. 727, 96 S.E.2d 151 (1957) (sheriff considered to be state rather than local employee); Board of Supervisors of Rockingham County v. Lucas, 142 Va. 84 (1925) (deputies not local employees); Burch v. Hardwicke, 71 Va. (30 Gratt.) 24, 35-36 (1878) (sheriff characterized as state employee).