His criminal record: Does Ohio rescuer Charles Ramsey’s rap sheet matter?

The Globe and Mail

This May 6, 2013 file photo shows neighbour Charles Ramsey speaking to media near the home where missing women Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight were rescued in Cleveland. Ramsey lived next door to where Ariel Castro is alleged to have kept the women in his makeshift prison until Monday afternoon, when Ramsey happened to be home and heard Amanda Berry's scream. (Scott Shaw/AP/The Plain Dealer)

As the Hot Button pointed out earlier this week, the public’s delight in Charles Ramsey is arguably tinged with racial stereotyping. And the entertainment value of his viral media interview and 911 call has overshadowed the important fact that Ramsey had mistaken Amanda Berry’s screams as a domestic violence dispute and had rushed to help her anyway.

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But as The Smoking Gun has revealed, domestic violence is something with which Ramsey is familiar; the website has dug up court records, showing that he has previously been convicted and spent time in prison for domestic violence among other crimes.

The Smoking Gun says Ramsey was a repeat spousal abuser, whose assaults on his wife Rochelle led to the couple’s 2003 divorce. The website says Ramsey’s criminal history also includes convictions in the early 1990s for drug abuse, criminal trespassing and receiving stolen property.

The probe into Ramsey’s past has some questioning his hero status. As Australia’s news.com.au asked in a headline: “Is Cleveland kidnapping hero Charles Ramsey a fraud?” The article goes on to mention his rap sheet and quotes neighbour Angel Cordero as saying Ramsey does not deserve all the credit for helping Berry because he helped her first.

“Ramsey arrived after she was outside with the girl,” Cordero told Cleveland’s NewsChannel 5. “But the truth who arrived there, who crossed the street, who came and broke the door, it was me.”

Many commenters on The Smoking Gun website, however, are wondering what the point is of digging up Ramsey’s court records, arguing that his past does not detract from his gallantry.

“Ten years ago this man did something horrible, did his time, took classes and started working on him. Regardless of his past mistakes, he saved three women from a life of hell,” one commenter wrote.

Another quipped: “Here is a lesson to everyone: If you have something to hide that you don’t want aired out publicly NEVER HELP ANYONE. Thanks Smoking Gun for teaching us that lesson.”

Certainly, the public has a right to know about Ramsey’s past, especially since he’s been cast in the spotlight. But Ramsey also has a right to redeem himself and deserves the chance to show that he’s turned a new leaf.

Even Rochelle told The Smoking Gun that she is now on “an okay basis” with her ex-husband, and that Ramsey had eventually apologized for abusing her.

Whatever his prior wrongs, Ramsey showed real compassion in his 911 call, and certainly does not appear to be looking to gain from the ordeal of the kidnapping victims.

As Global News reports, Ramsey denies being a hero ("No, no, no, no, no bro. I’m a Christian, an American and I’m just like you,” he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper) and he says he has no interest in any reward money.

“I’ll tell you what to do, give it to [the girls],” he said. “If folks have been following this case since last night, and you’ve been following me since last night, you know I got a job anyway … so take that reward and give it to the girls.”

What do you think? Was it fair to dig up Ramsey’s past?