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UPDATED IV: Someone is lying – or dazed and confused – about the race for county sheriff

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Rory Ryan

By Rory Ryan
The Highland County Press

There are some people in this world who are born to be useful idiots. Lord knows, today I feel like one of them.

While I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, most days I am not without some measure of intelligence and influence.

So, let's recap the recent developments in the March 19 primary race for Highland County sheriff. As our readers know, in our HCP print edition and online, we devoted the exact same space to both candidates, Randy Sanders and Brandon Stratton, and we took both candidates at their word during our interviews.

When some readers – correctly – pointed out that one of the candidates who claimed to be a "lifelong Republican," was lying, we corrected that. That error was mine, because I was asked by our editor about it. I replied that Stratton had faced former Sheriff Ron Ward in a GOP primary. I was wrong. I said as much – publicly – last week. Of course, Stratton shares some blame because he provided that false information to us – in writing. We have copies.

Dan Croy correctly pointed that out on our website. (See….)

On March 12, Tom Horst called The Highland County Press and asked to meet with me. Stratton arrived momentarily after Horst. At points in our conversation, Stratton wanted to be "off the record." I agreed and dropped my pen and notebook. If there are any recordings from our meeting, I did not make them. Perhaps they did. If so, I stand by whatever I said in the context of our conversation. I did not lie to them.

After more than three consecutive decades in this godforsaken newspaper business, once someone requests an OTR (off the record), I stop taking notes.

Thus, my surprise to see some misinformation or misquotes today in another publication.

Here are my points of contention as related to another publication's report (for which I was never contacted to reply):

• “The story is that Ron Ward, who is Sanders’ campaign manager, went to the Highland County Press and said that he had received sealed documents that weren’t allowed to be given to the public, and that’s when they put me under investigation,” Stratton said Tuesday.

Before I can accurately address this, someone must define the pronoun "he" in this sentence: "The story is that Ron Ward, who is Sanders’ campaign manager, went to the Highland County Press and said that he had received sealed documents that weren’t allowed to be given to the public."

Is "he" Ron Ward, Brandon Stratton or me? I have no idea. Regardless, Ron Ward did not come to The HCP on this story.

Everything written in all of our previous stories on this, I stand by, based upon the information at that time.

Another quote in another publication:

• “Rory had received those letters, and that’s basically what started it, and they come (sic) from Ronnie Ward,” said Stratton. “They come (sic) from that side, and I think that it was all fake news, and this is a smear campaign, and I never had anything to do with it.”

That is absolutely false. As we reported last week: One local business representative scanned the document and emailed it to The Highland County Press on March 7. The HCP did not – and has not – received any letters or public records related to this from Ron Ward. Either Stratton is lying or he was misquoted.

As we reported last week: "Former Highland County Sheriff Ron Ward told The Highland County Press on March 7 that a Hillsboro business representative contacted him after receiving the records in his mailbox on March 7."

Another quote in another publication:

• “The story was broke (sic) to Rory Ryan [of the Highland County Press], and he’s updated his story five or six times now (five), but the original story is that Ron Ward received sealed documents from an uptown businessman about a candidate who was in the sheriff’s race,” said Stratton.

Here is our lede from the original story: "Portions of political-related public records were placed in certain mailboxes in Highland County sometime late March 6 or early March 7, according to multiple sources, less than two weeks before the Ohio March 19 primary election. The documents were placed in mailboxes in unmarked envelopes without postage, according to at least two local businesses. One local business representative scanned the document and emailed it to The Highland County Press on March 7."

Ron Ward was not quoted until the 16th paragraph of that story. He absolutely was not our source for this. I told that to Stratton and Horst. Ward only added that he had received similar information. He also referenced a possibly "sealed" document on March 7, of which we have no corroboration at this point.

Our story would have been published with or without any information from Ron Ward. Period.

The HCP was called on Feb. 29 or March 1 by someone previously under indictment, who claimed knowledge of the aforementioned records. We did not act whatsoever on that phone call, since we had zero evidence.

We learned of Stratton's first placement on leave from Sheriff Barrera on Thursday, March 7. We made public records requests on Friday, March 8. Those are the undeniable facts, regardless of what may be said or published elsewhere.

• On March 12, we received this: "We should not have named you or HCP – or certainly without calling you for comment if you were named by someone else," the owner of the other publication said today.

Unlike the "other publication," The HCP is trying to take the high road in all of this. Any of you who want to confront me on the facts, stop on by. It is amusing that the other publication would even reference my name, since in 2009, it deleted all references to my bylines. How soon they forget. I don't.

I have been in the printing and publishing business for 44 consecutive years, and I do not appreciate my name or my business appearing in this context as it appeared today.

Thus far, I have stayed removed from endorsing in either the GOP race for sheriff or the GOP Second District Congressional race. That may change – and soon.

I do not appreciate anyone attempting to use my newspaper in order to mislead the community that we do our best to serve. For those of you have sent your thoughts and opinions, perhaps this will help clear the waters. But experience tells me otherwise.

Without a doubt, someone is lying or has been blatantly misquoted. In fact, someone continues to have misleading information on his Facebook page as of March 16. (See the image below.) Sad and desperate, one can suppose.

As to the lying, it ain't me, Babe. 

Rory Ryan is publisher and owner of The Highland County Press, Highland County's only locally owned and operated newspaper.…




Matthew (not verified)

13 March 2024

Stratton's grammar is unacceptable for someone seeking an extremely important elected position. Written reports, arrest warrants, search warrants, credible Court testimony, and public statements are the backbone of effective law enforcement. If the Chief Deputy, and wannabe Sheriff, is unable to improve on his communication and public relation skills, or his knowledge of what "off the record" means, then that individual should seek another Independent run 4 years from now. The honorable citizens need an intelligent, an honest, a true crime fighter, a communicator, and a leader as Sheriff.

Ron Ward (not verified)

13 March 2024

I feel compelled to set the written record straight as it pertains to me and my involvement in the Randy Sanders for Sheriff Campaign. The only truthful words that were spewed from the mouths of Mr. Horst and Mr. Stratton during their meetings on March 12 with the HCP and Times Gazette is that I am in fact the Chair of the Sanders campaign and damned proud to be! We have run a "High Road" Campaign from day one, with town hall meetings, meet-and-greets around the county, door-to-door canvasing, positive mailers (with postal stamps, I might add) and will continue to do so through March 19. The voters will see through the smoke and mirrors that the other candidate is putting out there. I do find it ironic that if your look to your right in this commentary that there is a paid ad by Mr. Horst with the word Trust mentioned three times. I was brought up to believe that Trust and Truth go hand in hand. If you have no truth, you have no trust. Mr. Horst and Mr. Stratton, if you are reading this comment, expect future communications from my attorney as you both should know and understand, you cannot produce lies and try and damage reputations without recourse. It is called libel and slander, if either one of you needs an explanation.

It says volumes to me that once again, Deputy Stratton has been placed on Administrative Leave by Sheriff Barrera for the 2nd time in less than a week. As the former Highland County Sheriff, voter, taxpayer and current Liberty Township Trustee, I am embarrassed as to what is happening in that very important office in our county's government.

Sheriff Ron Ward (Retired)

Jin Grandey (not verified)

13 March 2024

As the former Prosecutor for Highland County, I can personally tell everyone in Highland County that Randy Sanders is by far the most qualified, experienced and honest candidate for the office of Highland County Sheriff.

Brian S Vance (not verified)

13 March 2024

I was today years old when I discovered the word "lede". Had to look it up with Webster. Always incorrectly thought of it by another spelling. Thanks HCP! I've learned much by frequenting this publication.

Prefer not to say (not verified)

14 March 2024

I wonder how many people have sought the services of the HCSO in a time of need, but were subjected to similar patterns of behavior. Either receiving no help with the enforcement of a law being broken against them or getting hustled hard and made a fool of or turned into the bad guy? From what I gather more than a few. And personally, I’m posting this anonymously because I fear the consequences of not. And that’s really saying something, considering we the public are paying the bill.

Monica Sellers (not verified)

14 March 2024

Thank you for your excellent coverage of this story! We appreciate the efforts you have taken to give the facts and keep your readers updated.

Matthew (not verified)

15 March 2024

Is the BCI involved in the investigation as to the reason of the 2nd Administrative Leave within 5 days? I'm trying to wrap my head around the series of events the past 2 weeks... In 2019, Sheriff Barerra is out on Medical leave. I suppose Deputy Stratton is filling in as temporary County Sheriff. Then out of the blue, an effective and experienced Detective Randy Sanders gets put on Admin leave and BCI is called in? There were no findings of anything that Det. Sanders may have done untoward. It was just a "mysterious" investigation implemented by the ambitious chief deputy who held the reins of the Sheriff's Office for a few weeks. A sheriff's office becomes cutthroat when there's an open Sheriff's seat looming in the future. Fast forward to 10 days ago. "Mysterious" and anonymous letters appear in area businesses' mailboxes with documentation about an investigation from 2019 on Sheriff primary candidate Randy Sanders. BCI rightly determined that Sanders is fine. Det. Sanders is fully reinstated as an effective and ethical law enforcement officer with 35 years of valuable experience. The Prosecutor's Office saw the raw deal Randy Sanders just went through. Sanders moved on from the Sheriff's Office because the Prosecutor was able to establish a position in her Office where Randy Sanders can do his work. Investigate, arrest, and prosecute violent felons, rapists, drug dealers, and the like. There has been a primary campaign for Sheriff the past few months. Where there's a face-off between the guy who ran for Sheriff as an independent in 2008 and lost (and his overall service record is underwhelming, at best); and an exemplary Detective from the Prosecutor's Office genuinely interested in the Office of Sheriff, to prevent even more crime and to just for the opportunity serve others in our community. Now for the infamous documents conspicuously delivered to certain businesses, then those entities let the HCP and Ron Ward know about Randy Sanders's leave and resignation from the Sheriff's office in 2019. Was someone, with a vested interest, interested in muddying the waters of the Sheriff Primary. Sanders was fully reinstated, per BCI's conclusion. But Sanders' resignation letter was sent out too, 10 days ago. But that record is only kept at the Highland County S.O., so who are the few who have access to the resignation letter. The Sheriff? Chief Deputy Stratton? And I don't know who else. Stratton was placed on admin leave for 5 days. After Statton and his campaign manager talked to the HCP and maybe another local newspaper, Stratton was placed back on Admin leave the same day he was reinstated from the intitial Admin leave. And his supervisor, Sheriff, and former endorser pulled his endorsement of Stratton a week before final voting in the primary. That doesn't look good at all for Brandon Stratton and his credibility as his campaign for the next Sheriff. This whole time, I'm sure Randy Sanders has continued his duty in investigating and prosecuting cases in Highland County. And he's has received overwhelming work and support from dozens of peace officers and informed citizens for his current campaign. It's just sad that candidate Stratton has been put on administrative leave twice during the 2 weeks leading up to an election. I hope more information will come out as to the events during this local primary.

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