If Lake County Sheriff can’t carry a weapon July 1, it will only impact his job slightly, experts say – Chicago Tribune


Unless an appeals court dismisses Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez’s felony case before July 1, Martinez won’t be able to carry a gun under Indiana’s new permitless carry law, which experts say will only slightly impact his job.

Beginning July 1, anyone 18 or older can carry a handgun in public except for reasons such as having a felony conviction, facing a restraining order from a court or having dangerous mental illness. Unless an appeals court dismisses the case, Martinez’s trial is set to start August 15.

Paul Stracci, Martinez’s attorney, said Martinez won’t carry a gun “if prohibited by law.” The new law “will not affect his ability to perform the primary duties of the sheriff and will not require any form of recusal,” Stracci said.

Martinez is facing trial for allegedly resisting law enforcement, a felony, and reckless driving, a misdemeanor. The state charges stem from a Sept. 18 incident in which Crown Point police officers conducting a traffic stop at about 11:30 p.m. in the 9000 block of Taft Street saw a black SUV traveling northbound on Main Street “at what appeared to be at a speed well above the 45 mph posted limit.”

The report states the SUV was ultimately seen making a right-hand turn onto eastbound U.S. 30 in Merrillville. As officers were catching up to the vehicle, the driver activated emergency red and blue police lights, giving notice that it was an unmarked police car. In seeing the lights, officers stopped trying to catch up.

The indictment states that Martinez “did knowingly or intentionally flee” from Crown Point police and that he “did recklessly operate a motor vehicle by driving at such an unreasonably high rate of speed as to endanger the safety or property of others.”

In April, Newton County Circuit Court Judge Jeryl Leach, who is presiding over the case, granted a motion for interlocutory appeal, which means the appeals court will determine if the case against him should be dismissed.

Martinez’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the case Feb. 16 arguing that the grand jury proceedings that brought forth the charges were “defective insofar as it was held in violation” of Indiana code and the Constitution. Leach denied the motion to dismiss.During the April hearing, one of Martinez’s attorneys, J. Michael Woods, said the motion for interlocutory appeal is needed because “it was an error to deny the motion to dismiss.”

Beginning July 1 under a new state law, Martinez would not be able to possess a firearm if convicted of a felony, Woods said in court. Under the same law, Martinez would not be able to carry a handgun while under indictment, Woods said in court.

“The way (the law) changes prohibition on firearms is pertinent to this case,” Woods said in court. “The mere fact that he’s under indictment imposes injury regardless of the outcome.”

Stephanie Whitehead, an associate professor of Criminal Justice at Indiana University East, said the impact of Martinez potentially not being able to carry a gun come July 1 is “complicated” because statistics show that most officers won’t pull the trigger of their gun during their career.

“The likelihood of him actually needing (the gun) to do his job is pretty low. Plus, being sheriff, a sheriff is mostly an administrative position. He’s not going to be in the field as much as his patrol officers,” Whitehead said. “On the one hand, it’s probably not going to impact his ability to do the job.”

But, with policing, a big part of the job is the “what if” and uncertainty of what a day may bring, Whitehead said. For example, there could be an incident — like a mass shooting — and the sheriff could be the closest officer to the scene, she said, so not carrying a weapon will impact him then.

“The statistical likelihood of that is low, but it can always happen,” Whitehead said.

In the event that the sheriff was the closest officer on the scene and respond with or without his gun, the optics depend on what happens in the incident, Whitehead said.

Say the sheriff responds to an incident and has a gun or even fires his gun, Whitehead said, depending on what happens people will respond differently. If he were to wound or kill a mass shooter, he would likely be praised as a hero and people are likely to overlook the fact that he’d be breaking the law, she said, but if he wounded a bystander he’d be criticized for that and for breaking the law.

If Martinez is still facing a felony charge come July 1, he shouldn’t carry his gun on or off duty, Whitehead said, or he’d be breaking the law.

Personally, Whitehead said she believes Martinez should’ve recused himself from his position once he was indicted because police officers “are supposed to be the most upright citizens and there’s a high expectation for police behavior.” But, under the law, the presumption is until he’s found guilty he’s allowed to do the job, she said.

In most gun bills, the Indiana legislature — like other states — put in qualified immunity language in the bill that states the law would not apply to police officers, Whitehead said, because of the nature of the job. But, the permitless carry law does not have the qualified immunity language, which Whitehead said was surprising.

The fact that the law has created controversy and doesn’t exempt police officers shows “the legislature really didn’t think things through,” Whitehead said.

“There’s a lot of things in practice that weren’t considered,” Whitehead said.

Research shows that most crime is situational, Whitehead said, where someone gets angry in the moment and does something violent. Being able to carry a gun without a permit could make situational crimes more deadly, she said.

“It just creates conditions more violence is possible,” Whitehead said.

Moving forward, Whitehead said she’d like the legislature to pay attention to gun use research when drafting gun bills. Whitehead said the legislature should take the research seriously and treat gun ownership as a social justice issue.

“The legislature in this case didn’t do their homework on anything. They paid no attention whatsoever to research. They didn’t think of the police exception. They just made it a free for all,” Whitehead said.

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June 19, 2022 at 05:00PM

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