Former Jail Commander Charmaine McGuffey to Launch Campaign for Hamilton County Sheriff

The campaign will likely put the county's first female jail director in competition with current sheriff and fellow Democrat Jim Neil, her former boss

click to enlarge Charmaine McGuffey in 2015 - Hamilton County
Hamilton County
Charmaine McGuffey in 2015

The former head of the Hamilton County Justice Center, Charmaine McGuffey, will launch a bid for Hamilton County sheriff May 15, according to an email invitation to the kick-off event. 

The campaign will put the county's first female jail director in competition with fellow Democrat Sheriff Jim Neil, her former boss. Neil became the first Democrat elected sheriff in Hamilton County in nearly four decades in 2012. He proved popular enough to handily beat Republican Gary Lee in a bid for reelection, though he has also stoked frustration among some liberal fellow Democrats for an appearance at a campaign rally for President Donald Trump in West Chester in 2016, issues around immigrant detention at the Hamilton County jail and other flash points.

There have been some bumps in the road for McGuffey, including a brief suspension and a demotion that led to her departure from the department.

McGuffey had been with the county since 1983 and took her role as jail director in 2012. At that time, the jail was among the worst in the state, but under McGuffey’s leadership, it improved to the point where it complied with state standards. McGuffey was also lauded for her work helping inmates recover from addiction.

But some jail employees didn’t like McGuffey's management style — or the fact that McGuffey wanted use-of-force incidents against inmates investigated more thoroughly, she claims.

In January, 2017, an employee at the jail filed a complaint alleging a hostile work environment under McGuffey. The county’s internal affairs department launched an investigation into the complaints. That investigation, citing allegations from four employees of favoritism, bullying and misleading statements to investigators by McGuffey, led to a demotion to a civilian post for McGuffey in May that year. 

McGuffey subsequently quit, saying the investigation was biased. She filed a lawsuit in May last year in Ohio Southern District Court against the sheriff's office, Neil, the county and the county commission alleging that her demotion was due to homophobia (McGuffey is a lesbian) and misogyny. That lawsuit is ongoing, with a jury trial scheduled for Jan. 13, 2020.

In that lawsuit, McGuffey alleges four counts of discrimination and retaliation and that she was wrongfully terminated from her job. She claims male employees were given preferential treatment, that she was left out of management meetings and that some veteran employees under her management, all of whom were male, were insubordinate to her.

“(The allegations against her) were a false pretext for discriminating and terminating Plaintiff because of her gender, her failure to conform to traditional female stereotypes, her sexual orientation, and her open criticism of HCSD’s excessive use of force against inmates,” the lawsuit reads.

McGuffey was also cited for a confrontation with police outside a Covington bar in 2010, The Cincinnati Enquirer reports. McGuffey was charged with public intoxication, disorderly conduct and menacing in connection with that incident. McGuffey said she had two and a half beers the night of the confrontation, which started when police approached one of her friends about an open container outside the bar. McGuffey wasn't taken into custody and the charges were dropped, though she did serve a five day suspension from her job with the Sheriff's Department.

Neil has proven popular as sheriff, but he also has his critics.

The sheriff, sometimes described as a conservative Democrat, called his appearance at the Trump rally a "mistake" and said he's more focused on being a law enforcement official than a politician. 

Then-Hamilton County Democratic Party Chair Tim Burke agreed Neil's appearance was a mistake, but lauded his management of the sheriff's office. 

But it is clear that some in the Hamilton County Democratic Party want another option as the county's demographics trend blue and as the party's leadership shifts. Several powerful local Democrats, including Cincinnati City Council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Tamaya Dennard and Chris Seelbach, are listed as members of the host committee for McGuffey's campaign launch, which will take place at Taft's Brewpourium.  

"How about we elect an incredibly qualified Democratic candidate for Hamilton County Sheriff who doesn't support Trump, doesn't attend Trump campaign rallies clapping and smiling, doesn't wear Trump MAGA hats at weekly staff meetings and isn't actually a Trump Republican?," Seelbach posted on Facebook yesterday. 

McGuffey and Neil will likely face off in a primary next May ahead of the 2020 general election. It isn't clear yet who Hamilton County Republicans might field in the race.

"I worked for more than 30 years in the Sheriff's Office to make it truly serve everyone in Hamilton County fairly, effectively, and economically," McGuffey said in a statement. "I will lead the Department to ensure everyone is truly served by our patrols, in the jail, and in the courthouse. The people of Hamilton County deserve that."

The race comes as the sheriff's office faces overcrowding at the Hamilton County Justice Center and budget cuts that have challenged many county departments. Earlier this year, Neil announced he would lay off 10 sheriff's deputies to bridge budget gaps.

This story has been updated

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