Cuyahoga County Prosecutor: Michael O’Malley running unopposed after winning ‘David and Goliath’ primary battle

By Peter Knab and Rex Larkman

The date was Tuesday, Feb. 23, and Michael O’Malley had just taken the stage next to Timothy McGinty for the debate in the Ohio Democratic Primary for Cuyahoga County prosecutor. McGinty, the incumbent, was running for re-election. As the bell chimed to begin the debate, O’Malley looked to the audience and gave someone a wink and a quick smirk, showing confidence and poise over his slightly more fidgety opponent.

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Around this time, some were describing this race as a David and Goliath battle, with O’Malley the distinct underdog. But as it turned out, O’Malley’s self-assurance in the debate was a foreshadowing of how the race would end. Less than a month after the February debate, McGinty conceded to O’Malley.

Now, in the Nov. 8 election, O’Malley is running unopposed for the prosecutor’s job.

With this knowledge, two student reporters conducted a sit-down interview with O’Malley. They focused their questions not so much on the race itself, but instead on the upcoming work of the next Cuyahoga County prosecutor.

Sitting down for a bite to eat at Pizzazz Pizza, near John Carroll University, the interviewers and the soon-to-be county prosecutor began their conversation. One of O’Malley’s big themes that he hopes to bring to the Prosecutor’s Office is the idea of “building bridges.” He believes this approach to leadership will bring about positive relationships between himself and the Cuyahoga County community, as well as with the people within the Justice Center.

“I continue to get out and I continue to talk to people, but it’s important that I continue to do that even when I’m in office,” he said when asked about this theme. “You just can’t hide on the 9th floor of the Justice Center.”

O’Malley was eager to point out what he sees as a clear distinction between himself and his former opponent on the issue of “temperament” in the office.

“A lot of people would be supporting my candidacy just because of temperament and fairness,” he said. The interviewers asked for more detail on what O’Malley sees as McGinty’s character flaws.

“He came into the office with a unique inability to listen to other people. He just doesn’t hear other people. He had no experience managing people,” O’Malley said. “He was not in touch with the employees in the office.”

So what will O’Malley do to promote positive change?

“You can’t fight with everyone all the time,” he replied. “You step down and realize your viewpoint is not always the right viewpoint. … Sometimes you have to settle in the middle.”

O’Malley’s plan stresses continued communication and transparency with the community. He wants people to get to know him and vice versa, he said.

His plan also states that he wants all “use-of-deadly-force” cases — that is, civilian deaths that involve police actions — to be taken to an independent source, so the people of Cuyahoga County do not have to worry about biased decision-making.

“You can’t be afraid to do what’s right,” he said.

On the topic of tense relations between Cleveland police and the city’s African American population, and the debate over “all lives matter versus Black Lives Matter,” O’Malley stated, “There is nothing wrong with each community promoting their own interests. … But the overriding issue is making sure that these cases are investigated fairly. Yes, all lives do matter.”

When asked to expand on how the justice system can regain public trust, he reiterated that there is a need for independent investigation in cases where police are accused of wrongdoing.

“If there is a [police involved] shooting, wherever, people feel that that the law enforcement agency should not be investigating itself,” he said. “You should bring an independent body in to conduct the investigation … especially within the African-American community. They do not believe the system works for them.”

Without his interviewers even bringing it up, O’Malley stressed the importance of one of the most controversial use-of-deadly-force cases in the history of the county, the death of Tamir Rice. This high-profile shooting, in which police shot and killed a 12-year-old boy brandishing a toy gun in a park, perfectly illustrates the distrust of the African-American community towards the prosecutor’s office.

According to Cleveland Scene magazine, the grand jury for this case did not take a vote on whether to lay charges against the police officer who shot Rice. Traditionally, grand juries end with a vote on one of two outcomes: “true bill” or “no bill.” The former means charges should be laid; the latter, that none are required. McGinty’s handling of the Tamir Rice case is controversial because, according to the Prosecutor’s Office communication director Joe Frolik, who was quoted in the same article, “It’s technically not a no-bill, because they didn’t vote on (whether to lay) charges.”

Clearly one of the problems McGinty faced in his primary loss was this apparent lack of transparency in the handling of the Tamir Rice case.

On the issue of the Tamir Rice grand jury, O’Malley stated that one of the mistakes made by McGinty was, “not taking the case to the grand jury, when he led people to believe that he did send it to a grand jury.”

Back in February, on the debate stage, the Tamir Rice case was a hot topic. McGinty accused O’Malley of avoiding questions on whether or not he would have prosecuted controversial local cases like the officer who shot Tamir Rice.

O’Malley boastfully replied, with laughter from the crowd towards McGinty, saying, “I don’t have all the facts and information that McGinty had. … I would have fairly and impartially, in pursuant to the laws of criminal procedure, presented those cases to a grand jury. And I would not have tainted the process by … releasing confidential information to the media.”

When the microphones are turned off and the cameras have stopped rolling, O’Malley is a dedicated father to his family. His son, Evan, a student at Ohio State University, agreed to an interview on the topic of his father’s new job, and his opinions and feelings towards the change of pace in his father’s life.

“Politics isn’t really my forte,” he said. “I’ve just never really been into it.”

The reporters inquired if his father ever pushed him toward being a politician.

“He’s never really pressured me into that,” Evan O’Malley said. “Most of the O’Malley family stay in it.”

The younger O’Malley was asked whether or not he was concerned with possible repercussions from the community on his father’s decisions.

“I don’t think the backlash will go that far, where people would come after the family,” he said with a laugh.