Home Local News Richmond County’s Sheriff Clemmons remembered as leader, mentor; memorial motorcycle ride planned

Richmond County’s Sheriff Clemmons remembered as leader, mentor; memorial motorcycle ride planned

More flowers have been added to a Richmond County Sheriff's Office patrol car since it was set up Thursday in memory of the late Sheriff James Clemmons.
William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — Richmond County continues to mourn the loss of Sheriff James Clemmons, who passed away at his home Thursday morning.

A patrol car in front of the old courthouse, which houses the sheriff’s office, was adorned Thursday afternoon with a black cover over the lights, a wreath and a bouquet of roses.

As of Friday afternoon, more flowers had been added by Richmond County residents in memory of the well-respected lawman who was first elected in 2010.

The Richmond County Chamber of Commerce posted a photo to its Facebook page of a blue and black ribbon hanging on the front door of its office.

Local bikers have also scheduled a “Love Ride” on Sunday Aug. 15 in Clemmons’ memory. The convoy will leave the Hide-A-Way Tavern on Billy Covington Road at 2:30 p.m. and ride to the old courthouse for a prayer.

The ride is being organized by Jamie Watson and Bill Thompson.

Watson told the RO Friday afternoon that they’re honoring Clemmons for everything he’s done for the county as well as the biker community.

“Clem always supported every one of my bike rides, no matter how big or small,” Watson said. “He made sure we had police escorts for our safety, as well as others. He rode himself — beautiful bike. He wanted to ride in the Back the Blue ride but had a meeting in D.C. that weekend and said he’d catch the next one. … we’re gonna miss the hell out of Clem, for sure.”

Clemmons’ unexpected death came as a shock, especially to his colleagues in the law enforcement community.

Rockingham Police Chief Billy Kelly issued a statement on the department’s Facebook page late Thursday:

In my nearly 30 years of Law Enforcement I have never experienced a loss quite like this.  Sheriff Clemmons, ” Clem” to anyone he ever met, represented this community with passion, dedication, and a love not often seen. He was my brother in blue, a man I respected, and most importantly he was my friend! We spoke often and he always greeted me with a smile, a smile that will be dearly missed. 

If a man is measured by the lives he’s changed for the better, his commitment to family and to the community he loved and served, then I believe there aren’t many better than my good friend “Clem.” My department mourns the loss of our Sheriff and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and his office. This a sad day for Law Enforcement, this a sad day for Richmond County.


Several sheriffs from across the state, still reeling from the death of Jones County Sheriff Danny Heath on Monday, have described Clemmons as a mentor.

Craven County Sheriff Chip Hughes wrote:

I am saddened by the loss of another great leader and mentor, Sheriff James Clemmons of Richmond County.  Sheriff Clemmons was a dedicated servant leader and a mentor to all Sheriffs. He always answered my calls for guidance and assistance and I will miss my friend and fellow Sheriff. God bless you sir!

Durham County Sheriff Clarence F. Birkhead wrote:

I was saddened to learn of the sudden death of Sheriff Clemmons. As Sheriffs representing local communities across our state, we are a very small fraternity. After hearing of the passing of Jones County Sheriff Danny Heath earlier this week, to lose two sitting Sheriffs is something no one should forget.

Sheriff Clemmons and I were friends and very close, mentoring me about our profession since becoming Durham County Sheriff. He held my hand in terms of welcoming me into the Sheriff family and encouraged me to serve on various committees with the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association. He was a highly respected advocate for law enforcement and his reputation was impeccable.

He will sorely be missed. My condolences to his family and the citizens of Richmond County.

Clemmons served as president of the Sheriffs’ Association from 2018-2019.

Acting U.S. Attorney Sandra Hairston issued a statement Friday saying Clemmons “was a trusted partner to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of North Carolina, always fully supportive of the mission to eradicate crime in Richmond County.”

In 2014, the sheriff’s office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office initiated a federal meth conspiracy investigation, which has resulted in the prosecution of more than 60 individuals for their roles in methamphetamine production in Richmond County.

Hairston added:

He was held in the highest regard possible by both his deputies and the constituents he served.  Sheriff Clemmons was a leader of rare qualities, having risen through the ranks of the Sheriff’s Office over the last 32 years to become a highly respected voice for law enforcement throughout his own county and the State of North Carolina.  Always approachable, always candid, and never one to back down from a tough issue, he will be sorely missed by everyone in this Office.  His collegiality, professionalism, and dedication to ‘doing it the right way’ will never be forgotten.”  


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Managing Editor William R. Toler is an award-winning writer and photographer with experience in print, television and online media.