Race Could Be Key Issue In Deters-Rucker Fight For Prosecutor's Office

Oct 5, 2020

Updated: Tuesday, 11:50 a.m.

After former municipal judge Fanon Rucker won the Democratic primary for Hamilton County Prosecutor, all eyes moved to Republican Joe Deters, the 22-year incumbent he will face in November.

It will be an expensive race, at least on the GOP side; and will command a lot of attention in the general election campaign.

Deters had served as prosecutor since 1992. He left in 1999 to become state treasurer, but returned to run for prosecutor again after Republican Mike Allen resigned from the job in a sex scandal.

Ironically, Rucker and Deters have faced off once before – in a 2004 race for Hamilton County prosecutor, where both were write-in candidates. Deters won that race with 60% of the vote.

"We had a good organization and were lucky enough to win that race ... but the Democrats of Hamilton County have drastically changed since 2004 and (now) it's definitely harder," Deters said during an interview this summer.

Deters is the last Republican to hold a major office in Hamilton County, garnering him special attention. Chair of the Hamilton County Republican Party Alex Triantifilou said Deters is the party's No. 1 priority going into November. Deters understands that it's about providing jobs for local Republicans in the prosecutor's office.

"I know what will happen if we're not successful to the (Hamilton County Republican Party), and that's the way politics is," he said. "If you elect a new prosecutor they bring in their own people."

Rucker Claims A 'Lack Of Outreach' To Blacks

For Rucker, his priority is using the prosecutor's office to reach out to the county's Black community and to bring diversity to the office. He believes there is some factor of implicit bias in the prosecutor's office against Black people that has affected the office's work.

"I don't necessarily believe that there is as much intentional efforts at mistreatment toward different classes or races," Rucker said. "I don't think that's as much intentional as it is ignorance. People are used to existing in ways they are comfortable with even though they have detrimental impacts on certain groups."

This has become apparent due to a "lack of outreach and relationship-building, unethical and inappropriate comments made on cases ... (and) incidents of overcharging and threatening charges that cannot be pursued," Rucker said.

Additionally, he pointed out that there have been no hires of Black men or women in the prosecutor's office since Deters rejoined in 2005, with the last hiring of an African American in the office taking place in 1999, according to Rucker.

After this article was published, Deters emailed WVXU to say this claim is false. "In fact, our office has hired both male and female African Americans with the latest of those hires taking place earlier this year in February, right before our budget was significantly cut," he wrote. 

Deters: Any Suggestion Of Racial Motivation Is 'Simply False'

Deters, on the other hand, perceives the accusations of bias in the office as baseless political jargon.

"Anyone who knows me or my staff knows it's false," Deters said. He stated that the large proportion of people convicted of violent crime are Black because most violent crimes in the county are committed by Black people.

"You have to deal with the cases you're given, and when the vast majority of (homicides) are African Americans killing African Americans, those are the cases you get," he said.

To help bridge the divide between the prosecutor's office and the Black community, Deters believes the Black community should take responsibility and look inward.

"People want to live in this dream world where it's everyone's fault but your own. I can't help that," Deters said. "This is not an uncommon occurrence throughout the U.S. — they don't trust the police; they don't trust the prosecutors; they don't trust the judges," he continued. "This is a very small minority of our community that believes this ... but there's others that are carrying out a political agenda that we have this racial motivation that is simply false."

Rucker said that the relationship between the prosecutor's office and the Black community would be one of his top priorities if elected to office, and a topic he will frequently touch upon in his campaign.

Deters' Work As A Private Lawyer

He also brought to light his concerns about Deters' work as a private lawyer in addition to his role as prosecutor.

"I don't understand how that's possible in a county of 800,000 people to go part-time," Rucker said. "The question is, how is their attention on all of the issues this county faces? And how can we the people be comfortable that conflicts of interest don't override the interests of a powerful elected official when a significant period of their time is spent doing side work, some of which crosses over into both worlds?" he continued. "It creates a ripple of conflicts which do not build trust."

According to Deters, his role at his private practice barely affects his work as prosecutor.

"The term part-time is a salary designation, it doesn't say how much I'm in the office. I'm there all the time," Deters said. "I know that's the message the other side is trying to put out, but all people have to do is turn on their TVs. I'm on there three or four times a week with cases, and that's not going to stop."

Rucker and Deters also butt heads when it comes to bail reform and use of the death penalty, which Rucker has advocated for and against, respectively.

If Rucker wins the Nov. 3 election, he would be the first Black person elected as county prosecutor.