Meet the Sheriff-Elect Who Took the Job of the Man Who Fired Her for Being Gay and Speaking Out

Supermajority Education Fund

November 18, 2020

In 2017, Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil fired Charmaine McGuffey from her job as major of the Hamilton County Jail and Court Services. Neil claimed he acted in response to a hostile work environment complaint filed by McGuffey’s administrative assistant. McGuffey argued she was fired at least in part because she is openly gay

This year McGuffey ran against Neil for Sheriff and handily defeated him in the April primary, capturing 70% of the votes. On election day, she defeated her Republican challenger, winning 52% of the votes.

McGuffy told LGBTQ Nation in March that her decision to run was based not on revenge, but because she “decided I can do a better job than [Neil].”

“In less than 20 minutes, my career was over,” McGuffey told Supermajority News, reflecting on the events of 2017. “But so were the programs I put in place and had planned. They began to flounder.” 

During the three years McGuffey served as major overseeing the Hamilton County Justice Center, she turned it from the worst jail in Ohio to the best of the state’s large jails. She helped start a men’s Veteran’s pod, which meets former military personnel’s unique needs; a men’s exit pod, which allows inmates to plan for release; and a heroin recovery pod to help female inmates, which she launched with the support of community organizations and volunteers after she was denied funding from the county for it. She was also “within weeks of launching” a men’s heroin recovery pod when she was fired — yet it took Neil additional three years to implement the program. “He didn’t know what he was doing and refused to copy the model I created with the women’s program,” she told Supermajority News. 

McGuffey’s removal “had a significant impact on the community we serve,” she said. “That’s why I won. People recognized it.”

However, McGuffy is still seeking recourse against Neil’s actions in the courts of law; she filed a lawsuit against Neil in 2018, and, in July, a federal judge advanced McGuffey’s lawsuit to trial. The court ruled that there were “obvious differences” in how the sheriff’s department handled the investigation into the hostile work environment claims against McGuffey as compared to her peers. Notably, while other investigations into hostile work environments conducted by the sheriff’s department were less than five pages, McGuffy’s investigation was 108 pages long.

The trial will take place in December, but in the meantime, McGuffey has her sights set on the work she’ll do as sheriff. Mainly, she is committed to enhancing the programs she started and building on their success. She also hopes to “build a bridge between officers and the community so we can start trusting each other.” To do this, McGuffey will create a citizen’s review board to invite people from the community to share their insights and concerns and give the department the chance to be transparent about its policies and procedures. 

McGuffey’s friend and campaign manager, Mary Carol Melon, told Supermajority News that McGuffey’s commitment to the community and to justice reform sets her apart from many others in law enforcement. Melon first met McGuffey during a community discussion she hosted on human trafficking prevention.” I was in awe. Here is this person in law enforcement who invited people in and listened to what they had to say. It wasn’t for show.” Melon also notes that McGuffey looks for solutions. “She wants to make sure the people who come into the jail have the support they need not to come back.”

McGuffey will be the first woman and first LGBTQ person to be Hamilton County sheriff when she takes office in January. “We have the opportunity now to give people hope, especially people in marginalized communities who have faced barriers to success in our society. And I plan to take full advantage of that opportunity.”