Martinez cruises to victory in sheriff’s race despite indictment | Government and Politics

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Lake County voters appeared poised to overlook Sheriff Oscar Martinez Jr.’s felony indictment Tuesday and send him cruising to victory in a race against three Democrats seeking to block his bid for re-election.

Unofficial vote tallies showed Martinez was expected to win his party’s nomination following challenges from former Gary Police Chief Richard D. Ligon, sheriff’s Officer Maria D. Trajkovich and Anthony Williams.

Martinez said he was proud voters chose him and thanked his supporters, his volunteers and the “brave men and women of the Lake County Sheriff’s Department” for his victory.

The sheriff said he was eager to continue the work he started four years ago, including “aggressive crime fighting” and investment in law enforcement technologies, training and equipment for officers.

Most of all, Martinez wanted to continue to keep the communities of Lake County safe, he said.

“I think the people of Lake County recognize that and want me to continue to serve as sheriff,” he said.

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No Republicans sought their party’s nod for sheriff, so Martinez currently is unopposed. The GOP still could select a candidate to run against Martinez in November’s general election.

The sheriff’s path to the fall election remains unclear.

Martinez was indicted in January by a Lake Criminal Court grand jury on a felony count of resisting law enforcement and misdemeanor reckless driving.

He’s accused of driving at speeds of up to 50 mph over the limit in September as two Crown Point police officers chased his unmarked Jeep TrackHawk with their lights and sirens activated.

Martinez pleaded not guilty and characterized the indictment as a “political witch hunt” by a “rival politician.” He pointed out he’s not accused of political corruption.

A trial is currently scheduled for August, but Martinez recently won a special judge’s permission to ask the Indiana Court of Appeals to consider reviewing an earlier decision not to dismiss his indictment. If the appellate court accepts transfer, it’s possible the trial could be delayed.

If Martinez were to be convicted of a felony, he would be automatically removed from office.

Martinez, who has served as a sheriff’s officer for about 29 years, unsuccessfully ran for his department’s top job in 2010 and 2014, losing to former Sheriff John Buncich.

A Democratic caucus first elected Martinez as sheriff in fall 2017 to replace Buncich, who was removed from office following his federal conviction for taking bribes.

Martinez won his first four-year term as sheriff in 2018.

His looming indictment drew criticism this year from Ligon and Trajkovich, both of whom were perennial sheriff’s candidates.

Ligon ran unsuccessfully in 2010, 2014 and 2018, while Trajkovich unsuccessfully ran in the 2017 caucus and in 2018.

Trajkovich, a 24-year veteran of the department, vowed “to solve the problem, not be the problem.”

“I took the oath to serve, protect and defend the community, not for the community to serve, protect and defend me,” she told The Times last month.

Ligon said Lake County residents needed a sheriff they can trust.

Ligon served in the U.S. Army and Indiana National Guard for 36 years, worked as a law enforcement official for the U.S. Postal Service from 1981 to 2004 and was Gary’s police chief from January to June 2020.

“If you’re a leader, you lead by example,” he said. “If you’re out doing bad things, or you’re not doing what you say you’re going to be doing, then the morale is low and you lose respect.”

Both Ligon and Trajkovich raised concerns about morale and alleged favoritism within the department.

Martinez maintained he was “the only candidate with a verified track record of keeping a balanced sheriff’s budget, while providing officers with the highest level of technology and training to fight crime and respond to emergencies safely and effectively.”

He said morale in the department was “higher than ever before,” and he vowed to continue “aggressive policing policies, including overnight enforcements targeting crimes like carjackings.”

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