New sheriff is 1st woman and LGBTQ person to hold position in Ohio county

KIARA BRANTLEY-JONES
·5 min read

Sheriff Charmaine McGuffey recalled a conversation she had with her uncle when she was only 14 years old telling him that she dreamed of becoming a police officer like him in the future. "Charmaine that's not gonna happen. You can't do that. You're not allowed. You're a woman," she said he told her.

McGuffey said she never let those words deter her.

PHOTO: A young Charmaine McGuffey in uniform seen in this undated photo. (Courtesy Charmaine McGuffey)
PHOTO: A young Charmaine McGuffey in uniform seen in this undated photo. (Courtesy Charmaine McGuffey)

"The entire time he was telling me why I couldn't do it," McGuffey said. "I was thinking about it in my mind how I was going to get it done and how I was going to achieve that."

After more than three decades of service, that dream came to fruition. McGuffey, 63, has been elected sheriff of Hamilton County, Ohio.

She made history not only as the first female sheriff to hold the department's highest office, but also as the first openly LGBTQ+ person to hold the rank in Hamilton County.

"It's an honor to serve the public that I know so well," McGuffey told ABC News. "It's a wonderful town, and I love it and I really never thought about going anywhere else."

Born and raised in Cincinnati, she attended the University of Cincinnati and received a Bachelor's of Science degree in criminal justice. She then joined the sheriff's office in 1983 working in the jail.

In the early stages of her career in law enforcement, she said there were "very few women" and the greatest challenge was proving herself by having to work twice as hard since there was "zero margin for mistake."

PHOTO: Sheriff Charmaine McGuffey photographed alongside her colleagues. (Hamilton County Sheriff's Office)
PHOTO: Sheriff Charmaine McGuffey photographed alongside her colleagues. (Hamilton County Sheriff's Office)

She served as an officer and rose to the rank of major in command of jail and court services.

"When I achieved the rank of major, I was absolutely thrilled," said McGuffey. "And so were the women that worked here."

That accomplishment did not come easily, she said McGuffey said she was "targeted" at work due to her gender and sexual orientation.

"I never denied who I was, I didn't pretend to be something else." she said. "I just kept my life very private."

She said feared that if anybody found out that she was gay, including a former boss who she claimed to be "very homophobic," then she would be fired or "never achieve rank."

In one alleged incident, McGuffey said that she went to use the restroom in the office and a co-worker had vandalized the women's bathroom sign by using permanent marker to draw a circle around the female icon and cross it out, replacing it with a gay slur written across the sign.

When she made the administration aware of the incident, they laughed about it, she said.

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"I flat absolutely knew I was on my own," McGuffey said. "It's a hard reality, but I continued to work hard and quite frankly I've loved every job I've ever had."

McGuffey said that she was not "outed" until she was cited for a confrontation with police outside a gay bar in Covington, Kentucky.

She said that she and a group of friends had watched a college basketball game, and that when they left around 11 p.m., two police officers confronted them.

The incident escalated and according to McGuffey, she "was thrown to the ground" and later cited by police. The citations were dropped, but the damage was done as she was outed and reprimanded.

PHOTO: Sheriff Charmaine McGuffey seen in uniform, receives her official hat. (Hamilton County Sheriff's Office)
PHOTO: Sheriff Charmaine McGuffey seen in uniform, receives her official hat. (Hamilton County Sheriff's Office)

As a major, she said she witnessed "excessive use of force by officers" and voiced her complaints to former Sheriff Jim Neil.

"I was told to stay in my lane," she said.

After speaking out, McGuffey said Neil tried to demote her, even though she had once been named law enforcement officer of the year.

According to court documents, Neil cited an internal affairs investigation that concluded McGuffey had created a hostile work environment.

McGuffey challenged the finding and refused to step down from her position.

When she refused demotion, she was fired in 2017, she said.

"I was stripped of my uniform, my livelihood, everything I'd worked for, for so many years," McGuffey told ABC News.

PHOTO: Sheriff Charmaine McGuffey seen with Major Jacquline Reed who she promoted as the first African American woman to hold the position in Hamilton County. (Hamilton County Sheriff's Office)
PHOTO: Sheriff Charmaine McGuffey seen with Major Jacquline Reed who she promoted as the first African American woman to hold the position in Hamilton County. (Hamilton County Sheriff's Office)

In response, she filed a federal lawsuit against Neil alleging discrimination and retaliation for alleging that other officers had used excessive force. In 2019, she decided to run for sheriff, beating Neil, her former boss, in the primary. McGuffey then secured the win in the general election for sheriff, making history in Hamilton County. Days before taking office, the suit was settled.

Neil and the department did not admit to the allegations, but McGuffey will receive over $200,000 in lost wages.

Neil declined ABC News' request for comment.

With her new victory, McGuffey wasted no time in hiring a qualified, diverse staff citing her intention to, "change the culture from within the department" and build more trust within the community.

In January 2020, she promoted Jacqueline Reed to major, making her the first African American woman to hold the position in Hamilton County.

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Being promoted to major "means a lot. Pride. It means hard work," said Reed. "It also made my children very proud, which is something I've always strived to accomplish."

Reed, who has served for 32 years, said that for years she watched men get promoted before her, causing her to almost call it quits. However, she says McGuffey was always encouraging her.

"I have always looked up to [her] during the years, she does amazing work." said Reed. "I've never thought I would make it this far, but I'm very proud that I stuck it out."

"I believe this is going to be a great department, we're all looking forward to a change," she added.

The new sheriff said she is determined to run a better department and reform the criminal justice system.

When asked what she'd tell her 14-year-old self now, Sheriff McGuffey responded: "I would say, Charmaine, you done good."

New sheriff is 1st woman and LGBTQ person to hold position in Ohio county originally appeared on abcnews.go.com