Another Deegan makes a difference
Gillian Deegan ’88 is leading the fight against animal cruelty
Gillian Deegan '88 has taken her B.A. in English in a lot of different directions. She's been in the U.S. Army Reserves, served as a sheriff's deputy, done undercover work for a police vice unit and even worked as a probation officer. But now, as an Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney, she seems to have finally found her calling. In addition to her regular court work, she's becoming a leader across Virginia in prosecuting animal cruelty cases.
"I'm hoping to make an impact on other prosecutors to go after these cases as hard as they can," Deegan explains. "They're time consuming and expensive, but I'm hoping to stress their importance."
Deegan is very dedicated and says some of that comes from her family members, who have given her many ties to Roanoke. Her father, the late Dr. William Deegan, was head of the English department, a Fishwick Professor of English and one of her professors. "It was cool to go in and be Dr. Deegan's daughter," she says.
Other family Maroons include her mother, Eve-Lynn Deegan '56; siblings Glynis Deegan '88, Jennifer Deegan Hart '82 and Jon Deegan, who also attended along with his wife, Susanne Hunt Deegan '85. Even her nephew, D.W. Hart '06, graduated from Roanoke.
While it was great to have her father in class, she admits he did pick on her at times. Deegan once asked him for an extension on a paper in return for mowing his grass; he agreed, but after mowing she discovered he had already offered the extension to the entire class.
After graduating, Deegan's interest in criminal justice led her down several paths. She served in the Army Reserves for six years and joined the Roanoke County Sheriff's Department as a deputy. Then, she transferred to a uniform patrol division of the newly created Roanoke County Police Department, where she often did undercover work with a vice unit. During many of these operations, she played the role of the undercover officer in drug busts.
Deegan later served as a probation and parole officer for the Virginia Department of Corrections, but after two years, she decided that she wanted to do more in criminal justice and applied to law school at Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C. She chose Campbell, she says, because "the campus reminded me a lot of Roanoke College. It was a similar experience."
After earning her law degree, Deegan opened up her own law practice, handling primarily criminal defense, but always planned to become a prosecutor. "When I went to law school it was with an eye towards prosecuting," she says. "It was just a matter of waiting for a position and getting some experience."
Deegan got her chance when she began work as the Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney in Botetourt in 2004. She handles many types of cases but is especially concerned about those dealing with animal cruelty. Her many experiences have given her a very hands-on approach to these cases. She doesn't just wait for the case to come to her in court; she goes with officers on investigations, consults national authorities in veterinary forensics and brings in rescue organizations.
Deegan has become one of the leading voices in Virginia on this subject and now serves on the Board of Directors of the Virginia Animal Fighting Task Force. At the recent state Commonwealth's Attorneys' conference in April, Deegan was asked to share her knowledge on cases involving animal hoarding, animal fighting and animal cruelty. She hopes to make a difference in stopping these crimes but is realistic about her chances.
"You'll never be able to stop it completely," she says. "But the more awareness you have and the more people you involve, the better chance you have to put a cap on it." - Laura Edelman Hart '06