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MARC CHASE: Councilman continues disgraceful charade

January 15, 2018

A recently jailed, previously convicted wife batterer strutted around Tuesday’s Lake County Council meeting like he owned the place.

Not 24 hours later, we learned the strutting batterer, Lake County Councilman Jamal Washington, faces new potential legal troubles. This time it’s for allegedly invoking his council authority to threaten the employment of Lake County Jail guards while Washington was an inmate in the jail last month on new domestic violence charges.

Truth really is stranger than fiction, and Washington keeps proving it every minute he’s allowed to continue as a sitting elected official.

Beyond the embarrassing, repugnant farce he’s creating is a ray of hope. His fellow council members — and other local elected officials — rightly are expressing an appropriate amount of disgust. Perhaps enough disgust exists, under the right conditions, to push Washington out of his current office and deny him success in other campaign endeavors.

A year ago, this columnist and The Times Editorial Board made adamant calls for Washington to resign after he pleaded guilty to battering his wife.

The pleas, of course, went unheeded by an unscrupulous public official far more concerned with his own lot than that of his taxpayers and fellow government colleagues.

A year to the day after that battery guilty plea, Merrillville police arrested Washington last month on new domestic violence charges. The new counts allege he threatened a live-in female cousin with a sledgehammer, grabbed her by the neck, slammed her to the floor and detained her against her will earlier in December.

On top of those new charges, Washington also faces a revocation of his probation in the battery conviction involving his wife.

All the embarrassment notwithstanding, Washington returned to his seat at Tuesday’s Lake County Council meeting. More embarrassment followed.

Washington continued his charade of training his cellphone camera on himself to broadcast every pen twirl, smirk and motion he made to his Facebook page.

At that meeting, Washington questioned Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez Jr. about the pay level of Lake County Jail guards as the council debated a 3 percent wage hike for jailers.

Though Martinez had more class than to comment on Washington’s remarks publicly, his answers to Washington were curt, and the vein-popping irritation in the sheriff’s face visible.

You see, Washington put up an appearance at the meeting of actually caring about the jailers’ well-being. The veracity of those overtures is highly suspect.

Multiple times during the meeting, he left his council seat, often disrupting colleagues who had the floor to speak. At least twice, it was to privately speak with a jail guard representative who was in the audience of the public meeting.

Several council members expressed disgust at the rude behavior when I spoke to them after the meeting.

But the true farce of the matter would be revealed a day after the council meeting.

That’s when The Times obtained a copy of a letter sent to the council by Lake County Jail guard union representatives.

The letter accuses Washington essentially of threatening to single out jail guards for firing. Those threats allegedly were made sometime during Washington’s 14-day incarceration in the jail in December.

That letter has been turned over to a special prosecutor in Washington’s new domestic violence case, and it could spell more trouble for him. It’s no stretch to envision possible official misconduct charges or other additional counts.

But at the root of all this is an utter lack of credibility and clear conflicts of interest plaguing whatever time Washington has left as a Lake County councilman.

The council appropriately has denied Washington any committee appointments pertaining to the jail, law enforcement or the courts. That’s in direct relation to a clear conflict of interest because of his pending legal troubles.

Some of his fellow council members, privately, have said they’re also willing to use a state statute to remove Washington from the council if he ends up serving an extended jail term in the probation violation case.

It’s a start.

Lake County voters also should remember the scarlet-red hue of embarrassment Washington has brought upon our collective faces if he decides to seek another elected office. They should remember that his elected position allows him to hold power over the county budget, including salaries of jail guards and judicial officers, among other departments.

He’s made recent overtures that he could run for Lake County clerk or perhaps another county office.

A man who struts with self-importance in the wake of such disgrace doesn’t deserve political support from any of us.

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