EAST CHICAGO — Incarcerated East Chicago Councilman Robert Battle may be able to phone into City Council meetings.
The city is seeing if Battle, jailed on allegations of drug crimes and a homicide, could perform official duties by attending City Council meetings twice a month through the Porter County Jail's video visitation system.
Battle, 42, has been held without bond since Nov. 17 on federal drug conspiracy and possession charges alleging he fatally shot Reimundo Camarillo Jr., 31, on Oct. 12 in East Chicago.
He is pleading not guilty and awaiting trial, scheduled to begin late this summer. Voters re-elected the unopposed Democrat in November — despite his legal problems.
Members of the Camarillo family asked the City Council on Monday to stop paying Battle's salary and expel him from office.
The City Council authorized their attorney, Stephen Bower, to look into those questions.
Bower said Wednesday it's technically possible through a system run by Dallas-based Securus Technologies, but, "there are a lot of roadblocks."
The council would have to file a request to be put on the jail's visitation chart for special sessions outside the regularly scheduled hours. The visit is now limited to 20 minutes.
Porter County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Sgt. Jamie Erow said Wednesday that Battle would sit in front of a video screen inside the jail and talk to East Chicago officials. They could see Battle and other inmates in the background.
The cost is $9.77 for a 20-minute visit, charged to the City Council.
Bower said state law forbids Battle from casting any votes by video link.
Bower said Battle has indicated through a girlfriend he wants electronic contact.
"We will try to cooperate with him, but the council is hard put to do all of this.
"It's up to Battle or Battle's attorney to do all the scheduling because he is the one absent from the meeting," Bower said. "I don't know whether Porter County would grant this or the U.S. attorney's office would have an objection."
Chicago attorney Jack Friedlander, defending Battle against the federal counts, declined comment on the video attendance issue. Ryan Holmes, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney David Capp, also declined comment.
Erow said a visitor, in this case the City Council "would have to be approved each time through our jail visitation officer. The visitor has to take a computer screen shot of their ID."
She said she isn't aware of whether Battle is requesting the video link to City Council meetings, but noted he's aware of how visitation works.
"He can make phone calls to anyone, like the East Chicago council," she said.
Battle has been absent since his detention.
Bower is set to draft a letter to the Indiana attorney general and the State Board of Accounts for guidance on whether they can stop Battle's pay or impeach him.
Paul Joyce, state examiner for the State Board of Accounts, and Bryan Corbin, public information officer for the attorney general, said their offices would cooperate with each other on the matter.
Joyce said they could provide an answer in a few weeks.
"I've seen a case long ago out of Knox County, Indiana where the prosecutor (sat) in jail before and (continued) to receive his pay," Joyce said.
East Chicago's City Council members make the highest salaries in the state at $42,356 a year.