D’brian Varnado – know by many as “V” – is a big man with a big smile, a big heart and big responsibilities. He’s a busy husband, a busy father and a busy and recently promoted sergeant at the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.
Besides the aforementioned roles, he’s also a baker at Marble City Sweets in West Knoxville. He and wife Lisa own the bakery that opened in 2020. You can find him there on his off days, managing and baking.
He’s a Mississippi native from McComb who moved to Knoxville with his mother and brother in 2000. He was 13 then and he left behind a bad neighborhood of drugs and gangs and domestic violence. Varnado and his brother did not use drugs or join a gang, but seeing that life personally helped steer him into a law enforcement career.
He has friends and buddies around town who know him from his days at West High School. He graduated in 2005 and was a quarterback and linebacker on the football team, but baseball was his first love. Something else happened to him at West.
He met and was befriended by the then-School Resource Officer Jeff Day of the Knoxville Police Department. Today, Day is an investigator at KPD. “Just being able to watch and listen to him, to see how he spoke to the students made a lasting impression on me,” Varnado says. “He didn’t care what race we were, he just wanted to see how our day was going and if all was well. That relationship was very important for my future. He was a major influence in my career.”
Day, honored by Varnado’s words, says he used his student buddy as an example to other kids. “I used to tell the others, ‘Why don’t you act like that guy (Varnado)?’ D’brian was the nicest and most humble young man I’d met. Solid. Great athlete. I knew he’d be successful and I’m really happy it’s in law enforcement.”
After high school, a stint in semipro football and other jobs, he worked security at the old St. Mary’s Hospital for 1-1/2 years. He then applied and became a KPD cadet. But KPD did not hire him, so he applied at KCSO and was hired Jan. 3, 2012. He worked in the jail at the City-County Building for nine months and then was sent to the Regional Police Academy in Maryville, where he first met Knox County Sheriff Tom Spangler. He graduated in 2013 and began his years on patrol then.
“I’ve loved every minute of my career. I like being in the middle of things, and knowing I’m out doing the job I had wanted to do for a long time,” Varnado said. “We have drugs, domestic violence calls, the gangs, accidents. It changes every day. It’s very rewarding to me to be on the front lines.”
After nine years on patrol, Varnado, 34, was promoted to sergeant on July 22. The promotion and the subsequent handshake between the two of them in the picture above meant the world to Varnado. He and the sheriff have history.
After Spangler retired as KCSO chief deputy in 2009, Blount County Sheriff James Berrong asked him to be deputy chief and oversee their Training Academy. It was there he and Varnado met.
“I knew Sgt. Varnado would make a fine officer and had a bright future ahead of him,” Spangler says. “It was no surprise when I saw he had been chosen to be promoted to sergeant for us. I reminded him on promotion day that his future is bright.”
From his patrol days, one call has stayed with him.
It involved a single-car accident in West Knox County. “A young woman was on her way home from work, about midnight, driving on the same street where she lived,” Varnado says. “She lost control and her car slammed into a tree.” She did not survive.
Varnado and a KCSO chaplain drove to the home to notify the family. “It was about 3 a.m. and her father came to the door and he broke down and was in denial,” he remembers. “Then he told us he had lost his wife seven months earlier. I’m glad the chaplain was with me. It was rough.”
Varnado will soon be away from KCSO for three months. Lisa is scheduled to have their second son, Elijah Lamont, on Sept. 7 and he will be on family leave. Their other son is Noah James, 5.
He’ll still be a very busy guy. Varnado will be helping her at home and keeping the bakery open. The street talk says he makes delicious macaroons, too.
Tom King writes Our Town Heroes each Monday. Suggest future stories at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 865-659-3562.