With less than a week until Christmas, vandals have struck again on the courthouse lawn – this time removing the skeleton Santa’s legs. The skeleton Santa display had already been vandalized on Dec. 5 and then on Dec. 10.
The Leesburg Police Department has put up a camera, owned by the sheriff’s office, across the street from the display to keep an eye on the vandalism.
The sheriff’s office maintains the courthouse, Master Police Officer Christopher Tidmore and spokesperson for the Leesburg Police Department said. Per the request of the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office the Leesburg Police Department placed the camera there shortly after the Christmas Parade on Dec. 10, according to Tidmore.
“We are enhancing our security measures in response to the incidents that have occurred to the displays,” Kraig Troxell, spokesperson for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office said. Troxell would not comment further on the camera.
According to Betsy Fields, research and communications manager for the Town of Leesburg, the camera is not monitored by the town or police department. It was placed there after the Leesburg Police Department had tried to return the camera to the sheriff’s office and they were asked to place it in front of the courthouse, Fields said.
The owner of the display is Middleburg resident Jeff Heflin Jr., according to Julie Withrow, a Loudoun County administrator.
On Heflin’s application for inclusion in the courthouse display, he described his entry as “art work of Santa on a cross to depict society’s materialistic obsessions and addictions and how it is killing the peace, love, joy and kindness that is supposed to be prevalent during the holiday season.” Heflin is not part of any organization and sponsored the display himself.
The courthouse displays have seen such controversy for years. A Loudoun County Board of Supervisors appointed citizen group, the Courthouse Grounds and Facilities Committee, recommended in December 2009 that the county ban courthouse displays. The board later denied the committee’s request. The debate resurfaced in July 2010 when the committee requested a ban be put in place on courthouse lawn displays. The board decided that anyone could put up displays on the lawn on a first-come, first-serve basis, with 10 spots, recently reduced to nine. The board voted on Dec. 6 to move the vote to next year on whether to keep the displays.
A family from Washington, D.C. had heard the buzz being generated over several news sources in the area of the skeleton Santa on the courthouse lawn and made a pilgrimage to Leesburg to see for themselves.
“We don’t believe that you should have a creche on the courthouse lawn … there should be separation of church and state,” Amy, a resident of Washington, D.C. said.
“The message you are sending with just a creche is that there’s no separation of church and state,” she continued.
The family said it was a mix of skepticism that brought them out and thought that it was strange to even put religious symbols on government property.
What they gathered to be the meaning of the skeleton Santa was Christmas was being fueled by commercialism and didn’t understand why residents were so up-in-arms over the display.
“Christmas has already been destroyed,” Maria Zumer said. “It’s so commercialized.”
The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office is responsible for guarding the displays at the courthouse complex and grounds and the Leesburg Police Department also patrols the surrounding area in Historic Downtown, according to Troxell.
“The agency will enhance our current security measures at the courthouse, to include directed patrols in the area,” Troxell said after the first piece of the display was taken on Dec. 10. “We have security measures for the courthouse and the grounds and because they’re county property or considered county jurisdiction, we will investigate any criminal activity on these grounds.”
A report from the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office said that the display’s theft is under investigation.
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