Editor’s Note: This story first published on Feb. 2, 2019
Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones isn’t shy about voicing his opinion, which has helped him reach national attention numerous times in his 14-plus years in the position.
Jones has been vocal since he assumed office in 2005. Going into his 15th year as Butler County’s sheriff — the longest tenure for a Butler County sheriff in some six decades — his positions in areas such as illegal immigration and gun and school safety are more hardened and controversial, mainly because he said he will “say anything everyone else is scared to say,” he said.
The sheriff most recently gained national attention when he wrote letters to former U.S. presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama asking them to assist in a solution to the partial government shutdown. But that was just the latest time Jones has made waves for his comments in letters, radio, television or online.
Jones takes on the national spotlight when it shines his way because “sometimes the people I represent have no voice. They have a vote, but they can’t talk to people like I can.”
And he talks with state lawmakers, governors, national lawmakers, presidential candidates and presidents.
There is hardly any gray areas when it comes to the outspoken sheriff, who has received national coverage on every major news station over the years. Most frequently he’s appeared on Fox News, though.
He takes strong stances on illegal immigration and arming teachers or staff in schools, and he is a strong supporter for conservative politicians — like President Donald Trump — and has a deep disdain for the former Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
“He’s certainly a polarizing figure,” said Miami University political science professor Chris Kelley. “There’s no luke-warm with him. People either love him, or they absolutely hate him.”
That polarizing, uncompromising attitude is why Jones has been invited to the national stage to talk about hot-button issues, Kelley said.
“Mostly it’s that hard stance on immigration that makes him a perfect person that Fox News and talk radio can put on — a tough-talking elected sheriff,” he said. “He makes for perfect cable television because he’s got great soundbites and sees things in black and white.”
And his burly, cowboy-hat-wearing persona, complete with a walrus mustache, also makes for good photos and television, and in some cases, movies. That look landed him a couple of scenes in “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” the movie about serial killer Ted Bundy starring actor Zac Efron.
“He’s not in that same kind of ballpark as (former Maricopa County, Ariz. Sheriff Joe) Arpaio, but he’s doing all the things Arpaio did to shoot into the stratosphere,” Kelley said of the controversial former sheriff . “He’s certainly in that bottom rung of these characters that make good media.”
Jones first received national recognition after he assumed office in 2005, when he posted his now-famous, yellow-and-black “Illegal Aliens Here” sign with an arrow pointing toward the jail. CNN was the first national organization to cover that story. Then he put up a billboard stating, “Hire an illegal - Break The Law!” — complete with the federal immigration law code.
From that point, the sheriff’s hard-lined positions, both politically and law enforcement-wise, have garnered him more national air time and interviews by national newspapers, and he said he’s been interviewed by international reporters.
When Jones is on these cable news stations, he sometimes will make surprising statements, as he did in August 2015 on MSNBC’s “All In with Chris Hayes.” He told host Chris Hayes, “If I could deport Americans, I would.” Later in the interview, he said when he has American citizens committing murder and child rape, “if there were some country that would take them I’d be okay with that.”
He also twice sent Mexico — in 2007 and 2014 — bills for housing illegal immigrants in his jail from that country. He’s also sent multiple letters to sitting presidents on immigration issues.
More times than not, Jones said, his media appearances are about his expertise in law enforcement, including defending on HLN an undercover cop — who was a shooting victim — when he held up petroleum jelly while testifying in court and telling the accused shooter, “You are going to need a lot of this.”
“I assume once you get on that stage, you kind of become that go-to guy,” he said.
But some say Jones isn’t a national figure.
“He’s a local political entertainer that occasionally makes it on Fox News,” said Butler County Democratic Party Executive Chair Brian Hester. “There’s a difference. He knows he can get on Fox News if he takes controversial positions, like saying his officers shouldn’t carry Narcan but teachers should be packing heat. But that occasional exposure hasn’t made him influential nationally.”
He said he seemed to peak when he appeared on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” in 2014, and said Trump didn’t have him speak at his political rally in Warren County in 2018. Jones spoke at multiple Trump rallies in 2016 as a campaign surrogate for the New York billionaire.
“Jones is an affable and smart man who knows local media has set aside journalism for the pursuit of click bait and will justify their nonstop coverage of him by inflating his importance for him,” Hester said.
Hester is also critical of Jones as Butler County was designated on the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area last year “under his watch,” but Jones said being on that list isn’t for lack of enforcement. He said at least half the county’s drug trafficking is due to the over-prescription of legal narcotics. According to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report last year, Ohio doctors are still prescribing too many opioids.
His correspondence to former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush to help with the partial government shutdown was because it “affected the sheriff’s office as we have a federal contract to hold prisoners and DEA agents not getting paid.”
But most cheer the tough-talking Jones. He’s been elected as Butler County’s sheriff four times, receiving more votes every election since his first in 2004.
“Sheriff Jones is a strong and passionate voice for conservative causes, and is not afraid to speak his mind,” said Butler County GOP Executive Chair Todd Hall. “He’s willing to make a stand and take on the political arrows that come his way.”