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Sheriff On Sick Leave

The last time Alexandria Sheriff James Dunning was seen at any public function in the city was in June, when he presented a T.C. Williams High School senior with a scholarship named for his murdered wife, Nancy. Since then, he has kept a low profile.

Last week, the Alexandria Office of the Sheriff issued the following statement: “The sheriff for the city of Alexandria, James H. Dunning, is on sick leave. In honoring the request by his family, the Office of Sheriff will not comment on the condition of the sheriff. Please respect the wishes of the family.

“In the absence of the sheriff, the under sheriff, Richard R. Ruscak, assumes command of the Alexandria Office of Sheriff. No additional information will be provided.”

Other sources close to the family said that the sheriff was hospitalized, suffering from dehydration. There has been no indication about how long Dunning will remain on leave.

As a constitutional officer, Dunning was elected by voters in Alexandria. There is no statutory requirement about when or how often he reports to work.

After his wife’s murder on Dec. 5, 2003, Dunning was questioned by Alexandria police. He has retained Plato Cacheris, a well-known Washington attorney, to represent him and has not commented on the case.

Dunning and his son found Nancy dead in their home on Mt. Ida in the Del Ray neighborhood of the city. The autopsy revealed that she died from a gunshot wound.

While there have been pleas for information from the public and a $100,000 reward, there has been no arrest in the case. “This is an ongoing, active investigation,” said Amy Bertsch, a spokesperson for the Alexandria Police Department. “It is receiving the highest priority and we are still hoping that someone has information that will lead to an arrest and a conviction.”