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Sheriff apologizes for attending Trump rally

Posted: 2:15 PM, Mar 14, 2016
Updated: 2016-03-15 11:50:42Z
Local Dems stunned sheriff attended Trump rally

> WATCH Jim Neil's news conference in the video player above.

CINCINNATI  - Under fire from party leaders and local Democrats, Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil said his appearance at Donald Trump's rally "had nothing to do with politics."

It was about showing appreciation for Trump's support of police. And it did not mean he supports Trump for president, Neil said Monday.

"I was there to support Trump's support of us, but not there to support him. I'm a Democrat. Tomorrow I'll be using a Democrat ballot and I'll be casting a vote for Hillary (Clinton)," the sheriff said.

Ohio holds its presidential primaries Tuesday. Neil said he was invited to Trump's rally by phone Saturday and accepted the invitation Sunday morning.

"I was very appreciative of Donald Trump's support of law enforcement," the sheriff said during an afternoon news conference on the Justice Center steps. "I was there merely to show appreciation of Donald Trump's support for  law enforcement in the United States."

Neil apologized to his fellow Democratic candidates for attending the West Chester rally. He said he understands his appearance probably cost him some Democratic votes in November.

 "I made a big mistake," Neil said in his opening remarks. "It was selfish on my part because I didn't take into consideration other candidates on the Democratic ballot that are going to be running with me, because this could not just impact my votes, but it could impact the votes of any Democrat on the ballot, and I want to apologize for my actions."

 Earlier, the head of the Hamilton County Democratic Party told WCPO that Neil's appearance at Sunday's rally disappointed him and upset local Democrats.

“Frankly, I was stunned,” party chairman Tim Burke said. "I checked my iPhone and it was blowing up. I was very surprised that he went.

“I was very disappointed," Burke said. "I think that he sent all of the wrong messages. I think it was a bad decision by him to go.”

It's no wonder local Democrats were shocked to see Neil – in full uniform - at the rear of the stage with the controversial Republican presidential candidate in Butler County. When he was elected in 2012, Neal became the Hamilton County's first Democratic sheriff in 25 years.

When Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones, a Republican, was warming up the crowd for Trump, Jones introduced Neil to the crowd and said,  "We're here supporting Trump."

Later, when Trump took the stage, Neil and Jones were side-by-side behind the candidate in camera's view.

“I called him immediately after I heard about it," Burke said. "His explanation to me was, ‘Well, I was invited and I thought it was appropriate for me to go.'”

Unlike Jones, Neil did not speak at the rally, but that didn't soothe Burke.

“I’m really sad that he made that decision," Burke said. "It’s caused a great deal of confusion within the Democratic Party. It hurt some of our folks who have been very supportive of Jim."

Neil recently said Trump is the only presidential candidate who supports police, and he repeated that in so many words Monday.

"I have not heard any other candidate come out and officially support law enforcement. Everybody looks at the wrongs that have happened with law enforcement and community relations, but not the positives," Neil said.

Burke said Neil is wrong about that.

“First of all, I don’t buy that. Secondly, Trump’s also supporting a lot of other things that Democrats are not supporting,” Burke said.

“The kind of divisiveness that Trump is creating in this country is not what the Democratic Party is all about, and I’m disappointed that that didn’t come across."

In the wake of a rash of police shootings of unarmed blacks - here and across the country -  Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Clinton have said that all police shootings should be investigated by the Justice Department. 

“Neither Bernie nor Hillary are anti-police," Burke said. "They are saying people have to be accountable for what actions they take that are improper. That’s not an anti-cop position. And that is a very valid position.

“You don’t support cops by saying, ‘Whatever you do, even if it’s wrong, we’re going to back you '… Nobody in any profession is entitled to that kind of support.”

Asked if he thought that was the message Neil was sending by going to the rally, Burke replied:

“I don’t know how to answer that question. I do think that when he chose to go to the Trump rally in full uniform, he had to know that they would make an issue out of it. They would call attention to his appearance there. They put him up on the stage," Burke said.

Neil said he didn't feel used by the Republicans. He said Jones misspoke when he told the crowd Neil was there to support Trump's candidacy. He said he didn't choose to sit behind Trump's podium on the stage.

"I received an invitation and I had nothing to do with my seating. That was the seat that was saved for me," Neil said.

Neil explained why he doesn't support candidate Trump.

"Our platforms are different. I don't condone everything he believes in," Neil said. "I'm still a Democrat. I don't agree with his platform up and down."

Burke does not think Neil's appearance detracted from other Democratic candidates.

”I think it’s done more damage to him than it has to Democrats in general,” Burke said.

Burke said Neil would have to explain himself to local Democrats.

“He’s going to have to give an explanation to the Democrats who worked very hard for him last time, and who want him to be loyal to our party and our principles,” Burke said.

Neil agreed that his appearance may have cost him some of his party's support in November.

"It definitely could cause problems because I definitely alienated  a lot of people in the base," he said, "but again, I was reacting as the sheriff of Hamilton County, the chief law enforcement officer in the county, supporting the support for us."