Sheriff rehires former deputy with criminal past

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones in an interview at his office on his day off Monday. (FOX19 NOW)
Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones in an interview at his office on his day off Monday. (FOX19 NOW)

HAMILTON, OH (FOX19) - Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones has rehired a former deputy with a criminal past who left the department under a cloud of suspicion six years ago - and he says he's lucky to have him back.

"I am a good old boy. I do give people second chances," Jones said in an interview at his office Monday. "I do not regret this at all. It's the right thing to do and he'll be a great employee."

Kenneth Ritchie was a deputy sheriff when he quit in May 2012 after more than a decade with the department. He left when he was placed on administrative leave amid accusations he misused police union funds he oversaw as the FOP's treasurer, Jones said.

Ritchie, 43, who could not be reached for comment, was convicted of a misdemeanor related to the incident, never served jail time, completed probation and had the convicted expunged from his record and sealed, according to the sheriff.

The former law enforcement officer has lost his police commission, but Jones said he has no problem hiring him as a corrections officer.

Ritchie returned to the sheriff's office as a full-time employee April 16 and is now undergoing his second week of field training at the jail.

It's not clear yet what shift Ritchie will work once his training is complete, or how long that will take.

"He will have no seniority, so he'll get what they give him. He's been gone too long to get seniority," Jones said.

who recently made national headlines by offering free firearm training for teachers and other school employees amid safety concerns after a mass shooting killed

"Listen, I rehabilitate people, I try to work on them all the time," said the outspoken, cowboy hat-wearing sheriff who is no stranger to controversy.

Jones recently made national news by offering free firearm training to teachers and other school employees in light of the Parkland, Florida school shooting that left 17 students and employees dead. He's also drawn criticism for declaring his deputies won't use Narcan to revive those who overdose on heroin amid an unprecedented epidemic and for his stance on illegal immigration.

"People that are in my jail, people that are in prison, and I know people that have become very successful. I know him personally, and he'll be fine. And if he's not, he won't work here anymore. It's pretty simple," Jones said.

"Sometimes ,I believe in third chances.  And here's what I believe. I made this decision. No one else did."

This truly will be a third chance for Ritchie at the sheriff's office.

Back in 2011, he also was accused of mismanaging funds as the treasurer of the Edgewood Youth Baseball and Fastpitch Softball Association, Jones acknowledged.

Ritchie was suspended from his job 40 hours as a result, but the league didn't want to press charges against him, Jones said.

"People make mistakes. Who among us hasn't took something? Who hasn't taken a pencil, or took money, or stole something in their life?

"Some people do it early on in their life and they get punished and they stop. In America, it's still a free country and you can make mistakes, and you still have to have a job and you still have to make a living and you should."

Still, isn't the sheriff supposed to lead by example? How can he justify hiring an employee convicted of a crime to the public who elected him?

"I am setting the example by giving people a second chance and I will continue to give people second chances, even among my employees. I give them second chances, I fire people. I discipline people, but I give second chances.

"He's paid with his job and embarrassment, and I'm gonna bring him back, I'm gonna brush him off, and he's gonna be a fine individual," Jones said.

"He was already fine, he made terrible choices in his life, just like people that take money do, we'll see how well he does."

Jones stayed in touch with Ritchie after he left the sheriff's office. Ritchie worked part-time, or 20 hours a week, at the Ross Township Police Department from December 2012 to 2014, where his duties were "law enforcement," state records show, until he was hired in the state prison system in late 2014 - with Jones' help.

The sheriff confirmed he was a reference for Ritchie as he sought employment at the Lebanon Correctional Institution.

Jones was a major there before joining the sheriff's office as chief deputy in 1993. He went on to be elected sheriff in November 2004 and took office in January 2005.

Misdemeanor offenses do not restrict a person from working for the state of Ohio, prison officials told us Monday.

His application to the state prison system asks "Have you been convicted of a criminal misdemeanor conviction within the last two years (Do not include traffic violations). He responded: "Yes, but my conviction has been sealed."

Ritchie responded "N/A" for not applicable to the question: "Have you ever been disciplined for performance or behavioral incidents in the past five years?"

He worked at the prison until he resigned April 15, the day before he began returned to the sheriff's office, prison officials said Monday.

"He's been a corrections officer, I believe, four years in the state prison system. And when we checked up there, he was one of their best, that's what we were told. And they liked him. He was a corrections officer here when he started his career," Jones said.

Job reviews released to us when we asked Monday determined he met all expectations, repeatedly impressed supervisors and received a "satisfactory" evaluations.

"Officer Ritchie is consistently observed conducting himself in a professional manner, regardless of who he is engaged with," the review reads. "He is a dependable newer employee who can complete job assignments with limited supervision. He (is) courteous in demeanor and when assigned as a Relief Officer, he is present and available when needed."

It's hard, the sheriff said Monday, to find and retain qualified, experienced correctional officers.

"It's one of the more dangerous, thankless jobs that I've ever been associated with in my life and I've been doing this 42 years. I consider myself somewhat of an expert," Jones said.

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