Cop's complaint about demotion signals early start to Lake County sheriff campaign

2013-01-14T00:00:00Z 2013-01-14T13:27:04Z Cop's complaint about demotion signals early start to Lake County sheriff campaignBill Dolan, (219) 662-5328
January 14, 2013 12:00 am  • 

CROWN POINT | A veteran Lake County officer thinks he is making Sheriff John Buncich nervous about his political future.

Sgt. Oscar Martinez, who has spent many of his 20 years on the force busting drug transports on the area's highways, said he has been demoted.

He claims in the last few months he has been transferred to serving arrest warrants, planning security at Lake Ridge Schools and, beginning last week, serving court papers in civil court matters.

Martinez used to make headlines spying out the couriers and seizing large piles of narcotics and money from hidden compartments of their cars. He said he has been pushed down into the least exciting aspects of police work for a reason.

"My transfers are political," Martinez said Friday. "Sheriff Buncich believes that I intend to announce a candidacy for Lake County sheriff in the next election," he said, adding he cannot rule out a campaign to unseat Buncich next year.

Former Sheriff Roy Dominguez had assigned other officers to help Martinez conduct even wider searches for drugs. Martinez estimates he has personally intercepted $3 million in the illicit trade.

"I wasn't written up for any violations. The sheriff used to support me. I started drug interdiction in the 1990s, because Buncich gave me the opportunity."

Buncich had been sheriff for eight years before Dominguez's two-term tenure.

Buncich won election again in 2010 following a narrow victory over 10 other Democrats in the primary. Martinez ran third behind Gary Democrat Richard Ligon, who also is mulling another run for sheriff, according to political observers.

Buncich served 26 years on the force and is in his 10th year as sheriff, though not consecutively, He said he he is confident about the next election in 2014.

"I will be seeking another term," he said.

Buncich refused to comment on Martinez's complaints.

"That is a personnel matter and to respect his privacy, I won't discuss it," he said.

Buncich said the press conferences Martinez once starred in years ago were counterproductive and flashing "a large pile of cash and drugs" to the media has been replaced with quiet detective work.

"This has been very productive in our latest investigations. I can honestly say our seizures have increased dramatically," he said.

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