Jim Simmons.jpg

Winfield Councilman Jim Simmons

Provided

WINFIELD — The Lake County prosecutor is asking for an independent police probe into an alleged hit-and-run by a Winfield town councilman.

Prosecutor Bernard Carter confirmed Tuesday he will be asking the Lake County Sheriff's Department to investigate a Sept. 27 incident involving Winfield Town Councilman Jim Simmons and the owner of a landscaping service.

"I'm seeing enough here to warrant an independent review," Carter said.

Simmons declined comment on the matter, referring all questions to his attorney, Paul Stracci.

Stracci wasn't immediately available for comment Tuesday afternoon.

Attorney and former Lake County sheriff Roy Dominguez said the incident followed an argument between Simmons and Dominguez’s client, James Ballard, who owns a landscaping service. The two argued over wood chips that were either near or in the street in the 5200 block of 105th Lane in Winfield, Dominguez said.

According to Dominguez, Simmons demanded the chips be cleaned up and his client Ballard said it would be cleaned up when they were finished with the job.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Carter, Dominguez said Ballard, of Gary, was assaulted by Simmons, who identified himself as the Town Council vice president, when Simmons drove his truck over the landscaper's foot and lower leg. Ballard fell on Simmon's truck during the incident, Dominguez alleges.

Dominguez said Ballard asked his employees at the site to call 911, and Simmons stated, "I pay the police."

Shortly thereafter, Dominguez said, a county police officer and Winfield Deputy Marshal Branden Benton arrived.

According to Dominguez, an ambulance was dispatched to the scene. Ultimately, Ballard was treated at Community Hospital in Munster where he was diagnosed with a fractured bone to his left foot and injuries to his leg and hips.

Dominguez states in his letter to Carter that by the time police arrived, Simmons had left the scene in his pickup truck. Dominguez said Ballard asked Benton if he was going to arrest Simmons for a hit-and-run accident, criminal recklessness or other potential criminal charges, but that Benton did nothing and took no statements from the witnesses at the accident scene.

Dominguez is asking that Benton and Town Marshal Dan Ball assign the matter to the Indiana State Police because Simmons is a town councilman, and therefore an employer of town marshal personnel.

Ball told The Times in an email Tuesday he had no comment about the matter, noting the case had been turned over to the prosecutor's office.

"It is basic law enforcement practice that a police officer cannot ethically investigate their employer/elected official," Dominguez said. "They have refused. And to date, no accident report has been completed, and no charges have been filed."

Carter said Dominguez raised enough questions in his letter to warrant a police probe independent of the Winfield town marshal. However, the prosecutor is referring the matter to the Lake County sheriff, who already has a police contract and jurisdiction in Winfield.

Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez confirmed Carter asked his office Tuesday to investigate the matter because of a possible conflict with the Winfield town marshal investigating a town councilman.

"I'm here to assist the prosecutor with whatever he requires," Martinez said.

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Lake County reporter

Rob covers urban affairs and other matters in Crown Point, St. John, Winfield and beyond. Previously he covered Valparaiso, Hammond, Gary and East Chicago. He's also written for various magazines and pens a culture blog for The Times.