I sat down with Sheriff Richard K. Jones of Butler County, Ohio, on September 22nd for a one-on-one talk. What do you know about Sheriff Jones?
Sheriff Jones is a well-known national figure appearing on every major news corporation from USA Today to CNN, serving in the very Ohio congressional district made famous by John Boehner, former United States Speaker of the House. But for all the stories one might hear from Cincinnati.com to The New York Times, Sheriff Jones is not what you think.
Getting to know Richard Jones
Jones has a reputation for being a lot of things. Many of them good, some of them not. What you might not know is that he also has a great sense of humor. In an enjoyable afternoon, we talked about everything from Trump to TV, from booze to bullets. It’s been a bit of light-hearted fun having tarnished his image as the big bad boogeyman of Butler County
Officers In Trouble
The New York Times called him a “crusader against illegal immigrants.” The New York Post did a story on him as the sheriff who wanted to arm teachers at schools. He was labeled an outsider of the Republican party; that is, until 2016. He’s been called a wild west caricature. Yes, there are certainly many things that have been said about Richard Jones over the years. But I’m not here for that.
Our conversation starts on how the protests and riots are affecting him and his officers, “I already see people acting differently because of what they’re being indoctrinated with on TV, not trusting the police. Black and white. I’ve seen it right here in my [department] parking lot. They are being taught by the media that it’s okay to throw stuff at the police and they won’t do anything about it like it is in these big cities. We’re seeing it and feeling it here.”
“Officers don’t normally like to go through drive-thrus because people spit in their meals. They’re very cautious about where they eat and where they park. If you want to sit and eat in your cruiser, you have to park where you can watch. And if you’re looking at your computer, you have to have someone watch out for you because these people that want to hurt police will find you by yourself and set you up or even come to your house. They’re ambushing officers, just shooting them in their cars for no reason.”
Recently Jones was quoted as saying, “If you shoot at the police, expect us to shoot back,” in response to the recent tragic shooting of a local officer, Denny Jordan, in Middletown, Ohio. However, this is out of context and misleading as his original quote was, “Here in this community, and throughout the country, it’s been proven that if you shoot at the police, I want to make no mistake about it, we will shoot back.” It is important to note the difference, as one sounds like a threat, while the other is a generalization about the necessity of self-defense for law enforcement.
“You throw the pandemic on top of everything else? The police are tired and worn out. They’re human beings. And citizens are tired, they can’t go anywhere. They’re stressed. Moms and dads have their kids at home from school. Single parents, divorced parents. They are having to do something that they have no desire or no know-how to do… teach! That’s a profession.”
Law Enforcement Changes
The number of police officers in the US fluctuates for various reasons but has been on the rise steadily since 2013. However, things are no longer looking so positive for replenishing those that protect us, as many officers want to leave as a result of how they are viewed and treated by the public.
“It’s hard to recruit people, and it’s hard to get people to want to stay. It used to be that when you retired, we’d hire you back part-time. But now, people can’t wait to retire, because, in this profession, your decisions are scrutinized, just like that!” He loudly claps his hands together. “People sitting in an armchair will say ‘I wouldn’t have done that,’ but it happens that quick and there’s no time to think, and then everyone else gets to second guess you.”
These are real problems facing law enforcement all over the country. Yet, mainstream media outlets create a pressure cooker of unrest where it didn’t exist before, in effect, getting people killed. The fear generated by these news stories telling people that officers are hunting minorities foments bad blood between cops and civilians.
“Young people are afraid of the police, they’re scared of the police. Or they feel that they don’t have to comply. And most people shot by the police are those who don’t comply. They are being taught by the media that they don’t have to.” He says, “These are almost all people who get shot because they shoot first.”
We’ve been here before
“This isn’t the first time we’ve had riots. This isn’t the first time we’ve had protests. And we still have the best country in the world to live in. But we’ve never had the media fan it and support it like this, with Hollywood and those people. And whatever Hollywood thinks, I couldn’t care less. I couldn’t give two shits what they think.” Jones says.
While right now the aether is awash with articles making the argument that politics and entertainers have always been joined at the hip, the fact is, many do not watch entertainment figures to hear their political opinions. However, the majority of American’s say it’s okay for professional athletes and other celebrities to speak out publicly about politics. Yet, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter actively censor beliefs they disagree with.
I asked Sheriff Jones about his opinions concerning President Trump. We talked about the firing of Chris Christie, former governor of New Jersey. “All presidents fire people. Just because you’re a general doesn’t mean they can’t fire you. Abraham Lincoln went through five generals during the Civil War.”
He tells me about how he was the opening act for presidential nominee, Donald Trump, during the last election at US Arena in Cincinnati, Ohio, for a crowd of over twenty-five thousand people, but these numbers have been contested. He has also been to the White House three times which is an impressive feat by any stretch of the imagination.
I want to know about his intentions for politics in the future, either as Sheriff, or anything else. This is a complicated question. Those running for office have a set of moving parts to deal with, and a simplistic answer just isn’t possible. He reinforces this with a time he considered running against John Boehner. “I took petitions out to run in Congress one time. And I studied it. I would have run against the most powerful Republican in the United States. And I believe I would have won. But somebody asked me, ‘Why did you not run?’ And I said ‘Because I was afraid of getting elected! And I’d have to dye my hair jet black, and get a convertible, and get really tight pants, and go to DC, and become a very rich man! And who the hell’d want that?’” We both broke into laughter.
“Why would I do that when I can stay here and make a difference? And I have. And have fun. I was born and raised here. I get offered jobs here all the time. I’m asked to run for office—governor, senate, even congress. I tell people that it would be a demotion for me. I’m the people’s sheriff. And I love that. I was born and raised here. I love where I work. My kids were born here. My dad was a policeman. So, I plan on staying here for now. But there’s (sic) no options that are off the table.”
I’m getting some great answers from the sheriff. But I’m looking to get more personal. In spite of the gravity of current events, the ballot, the virus, the chaos in the streets, there was much said between us which was of a lighter note. I had come into the interview with one real goal in mind, and that was getting a picture of a humanized Richard Jones. I wanted something to give to people that wasn’t just a soundbite—another exaggeration designed to sell. I break out my list of questions that sound like something designed as a boyfriend questionnaire conducted on a first date and begin to chip away at the rest of our time.
I was born game
JST: “What was your favorite TV appearance? What is your favorite interview? Whether they grilled you or not, I don’t care. But which was your favorite?”
RKJ: “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. And I asked five people, ‘Should I do that show?’ And they all said, ‘No, don’t do it.’” And, it’s satire. And, I like satire. I like funny stuff. And that was my favorite, and you can’t take it serious (sic). But that was my favorite show. I flew and got there, and their job is to make fun of you, and fun of your beliefs. And sometimes, that’s where young people get their news from. They raked me over pretty good, but I knew that going there. And I enjoyed it the most.”
We go a little further in depth. I’m curious about one of his most defining characteristics, his cigar.
RKJ: “I like a very strong cigar, about 60 ring gauge, which is a pretty large cigar, it’s very wide. And about an hour-and-a-half smoke. And it can be light or dark. But I prefer a darker cigar, but I prefer a hefty cigar, and I prefer a V-cut versus a blunt cut, because when I smoke cigars, I slobber a bit lIke Pavlov’s dog.”
MY FAVORITE THINGS
JST: “And do you have a favorite alcoholic drink to go with that?”
RKJ: “Jack Daniels. On the rocks. No foo-foo. No lime, or lemon, or fruit juice. Straight Jack Daniels, on the rocks.”
JST: “Perfect. You gotta favorite book?”
RKJ: The Snows of Kilimanjaro. Huckleberry Finn. I read them in school, but I like the classics. And they’re free on your Kindle. And now I enjoy them more. Oh, ‘The Old Man and the Sea!’”
JST: What kinda music you like?”
RKJ: “I’d fool you. You’d think I like country music. And I do love country music. But also I like classical music. I listen to Dean Martin. Now my wife doesn’t like any of those. But I also like Kid Rock.”
JST: “You got a favorite president?”
RKJ: “You know, it was Ronald Reagan. But, I have to admit that my new favorite is Trump, because he’s so outspoken. But, before that it was Harry Truman. He was a very tough man. He dropped the bomb. Democrat. Wasn’t supposed to be president. Roosevelt died, and everyone thought, ‘Oh my god, who is this guy?’ Democrats were different then. He was a tough dude. He fired General MacArthur. They told him, ‘You can’t fire him, he’s like the king.’ Fired him anyway.”
RKJ: “My favorite food?”
JST: “It’s on here. I was going to ask you.”
RKJ: “It’s sausage gravy. Shit on a shingle. Not little speckles, like from Bob Evans. But big chunks of sausage.”
JST: “What sidearm?”
RKJ: “I carry a [Smith & Wesson] .38 revolver on the wrong side. Because why? Because I’m different. ”
JST: “What were some formative things that brought you to your current political beliefs?”
RKJ: “Working in the prison system. And when the Republicans were in, I made less money. When the Democrats were in, I made more money. But I couldn’t stomach the Democratic philosophy of doing away with the death penalty, not being conservative enough, being too liberal with prisoners, building more prisons than you could imagine. The Democrats, they locked everyone up. When I started in the prison system, they went from 10,000 prisoners to 40,000 prisoners in 12 years. From 6 prisons to 40 prisons. So it’s kinda odd. That’s where I got my beliefs. Plus, from the army.”
JST: “Favorite travel destination?”
RKJ: “I like being on the river. And smoking a cigar. And I like to watch the ocean. Just watch.”
JST: “Just watch?”
RKJ: “Yeah, when I put my Speedos on, everyone throws up in their mouth.”
JST: “A message to your naysayers?”
RKJ: “This is the greatest country in the world to live in.”
JST: “Final question. Will you deputize me?”
He, and Sargeant Peters sitting nearby, both roar.
RKJ: “I’d have to kill ya. I guess I could make you something. Wait, let’s wait and see your story first.”
We both erupted into laughter. Then we took some pictures together, and he insisted I prop my feet up on his desk, to let me know what a day in his shoes might be like. I smiled as I walked to my car.