Who's Running For Cuyahoga County Prosecutor?
When Cuyahoga County Democrats vote this Tuesday, they’ll be voting for the likely Cuyahoga County prosecutor. Without a Republican candidate in the race, incumbent Timothy McGinty or challenger Michael O’Malley will win, unopposed, in November. The county prosecutor’s office has become increasingly important in the last few years with the cases of Tamir Rice, “137 shots”, and Cleveland’s Consent Decree all placing the office at center stage – and not always in the best light.
On a busy Saturday at the West Side Market, McGinty met with voters, ran into old classmates, stopped for a brat, and introduced everyone to his grandkids.
Though unknown to some at the market, McGinty ran into quite a few familiar faces, including one from his time as a county judge.
As a Cuyahoga County judge for 18 years, McGinty was known for his abrasiveness on and off the bench. He’s unapologetically brought a similar style to his tenure as county prosecutor.
"I’m gonna stand up to that judge when they’re wrong," said McGinty. "It’s my job to fight for the victims, I’ll continue to fight for the victims."
Critics including the NAACP and local religious leaders have said that McGinty didn’t fight hard enough for one of those victims - 12 year old Tamir Rice, who was killed by a Cleveland Police officer in 2014. In the months that followed, McGinty’s office released expert reports that deemed the incident “tragic, but reasonable”. And more than a year later, a grand jury decided not to indict the officers, agreeing with McGinty’s recommendation. McGinty says without him, the case would not have gone to a grand jury at all.
"When I ran 4 years ago, I said we would change the system, that I would take every use of force case and take it to the grand jury where a civilian was killed by a police officer," said McGinty. "And we have."
McGinty prefers to focus on the less contentious accomplishments of his time in the prosecutor’s office. He points to the county’s sexual assault task force formed in 2013 to investigate thousands of untested rape kits, He also says his office has reduced overcharging - that is, ending the practice of tacking additional or harsher charges onto a defendant in hopes of a plea bargain.
"Our goal is to indict less, rehabilitate more on the low end, and focus our limited resources of police and prosecutors and other law enforcement on the high end – on the habitual violent offenders who are doing the majority of the crime," said McGinty.
Overcharging defendants was one criticism of previous Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason. McGinty’s challenger, Michael O’Malley, served under Mason for 5 years and McGinty for 3 years.
"I spent 8 years in the prosecutor’s office. I saw different leadership styles from both prosecutor Mason and prosecutor McGinty," said O'Malley.
"There are several issues I saw with the current prosecutor that I just thought, 'somebody could do a better job'".
O’Malley is taking a leave of absence from his position as Parma Safety Director to run for office. At a recent stop on a Sunday tour of churches on Cleveland’s east side, he introduced himself to Philemon Community Baptist Church members.
He wants to restore what he says the community has lost in the wake of police use of deadly force cases: trust in their prosecutor.
“We’re at a point in this county’s history as well as the history of this country where the people’s confidence in the criminal justice system is at an all-time low," said O'Malley.
He says he would have handled the Tamir Rice case differently, but he has not stated publicly whether he would have recommended indictments for the officers involved.
O’Malley’s platform includes a mentoring program between retired and new prosecutors. Also a part of his agenda: reforming and changing state law to ensure that all use of deadly force cases go to the state Attorney General. McGinty has expressed support for a similar effort.