Butler County lawmaker no longer faces career-ending felony charge

Butler County lawmaker no longer faces career-ending felony charge

State Rep. Wes Retherford no longer faces a felony charge that could have seen him automatically ousted from office if convicted.

Retherford, R-Hamilton, was arrested March 12 after he was found allegedly passed out drunk in a McDonald’s drive-thru.

Police initially charged him with a felony of improper handling of firearms in a vehicle after finding a loaded handgun in his truck’s center armrest.

Retherford, 33, was indicted Tuesday by a Butler County grand jury only on a misdemeanor charge of driving while intoxicated. That case is still pending.

Retherford told this news outlet Tuesday he had “no further comment until the matter is resolved.”

His attorney, Jeff Bowling, could not be reached for comment.

Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser himself presented the case to grand jury.

In a three-page statement, Gmoser explained his role in the case, which “brought out more irons in the fire than a Texas cattle ranch.”

“I fully support the grand jury’s decision,” Gmoser said.

Retherford, he said, was treated no differently than others who have faced the same charges. A poll of neighboring prosecutors and a review of similar cases handled by the prosecutor’s office since 2005 found gun charges were routinely dismissed, Gmoser said.

“When Mr. Retherford was arrested, I made sure he was not permitted to bond out of jail until his first court appearance and sought successfully the rescission of a bond about to be put in effect that would have let him out jail shortly after sun up on the day of arrest,” Gmoser said in the statement. “This was not punitive on my part or treating him worse because of his position, but to insure that he was not treated better than other weekend alleged offenders who lack access for a quick release.”

Retherford testified before the grand jury, along with other witnesses, according to the prosecutor.

“Equal justice has always been applied to our citizens in this type of case regardless of their positions under first offended circumstances and where a loaded firearm is not used in any threatening manner and when there is no other aggravating factors,” Gmoser said. He pointed out that the loaded firearm in Retherford’s truck at the time of his arrest was in a holster and under an arm rest, not on his person.

But he added, “This decision should not be construed by some as license to carry a loaded pistol in a vehicle while intoxicated. Law enforcement should and will continue to arrest under such circumstance with consequences to be determined by further legal proceedings.”

Butler County GOP Executive Chairman Todd Hall said the party “prides ourselves in professionalism and ethical standards” and Retherford, like any officeholder, is held to a higher standard.

“The Butler County Republican Party has built an organization and brand that is second-to-none,” Hall said. “Regardless of the charges and type of indictment Wes incurred, I cannot condone an officeholder who breaks the law and cannot uphold his oath to his constituents. Wes has an obligation to his community and his Party. The GOP expects a higher level of integrity, and I’m sure his district does too.”

Butler County Democratic Party Chairwoman Jocelyn Bucaro offered no comment on the grand jury’s decision.

Retherford is in his third term as representative of the 51st Ohio House District, which includes the cities of Hamilton and Fairfield, Ross Twp. and parts of Fairfield, Hanover, and St. Clair townships. Ohio’s state representatives are paid $60,584 annually.

Staff writer Michael D. Pitman contributed to this story.

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