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Local News Editor

Marc Chase is a veteran investigative reporter, columnist and editor of more than two decades. He currently leads The Times news staff as local news editor. He can be reached at 219-933-3327.

It never should have gotten this far.

Northwest Indiana received a new lesson in the perils of propping up convicted criminals in our political system Friday.

It's not the first and sadly won't be the last. Now, in the latest iteration of this lesson, we all can wallow in the shame of a sitting Lake County councilman, who previously pleaded guilty to battering his wife, facing new domestic violence and criminal confinement allegations.

That's right. A year to the day after Councilman Jamal Washington admitted to battering his wife, he was arrested Friday by Merrillville police in a new case of alleged violence against another family member.

The alleged victim appears to be recanting her accusations, but as of Friday evening, police and prosecutors weren't buying it. They believe her initial accounts of domestic violence — and that she was pressured by Washington to recant.

It never should have gotten this far.

It's a horrible stain that just doesn't seem to go away, in part because some of our leaders refuse to clean it up.

Meanwhile, guilty or not, Washington has no one to blame but himself if some folks don't believe his innocence. His guilty plea in a domestic violence case one year ago makes any account he gives untenable for many.

Perhaps this latest arrest also will be the death knell of a local politician who should have resigned a year ago rather than dragging the county through the mud along with him.

As of Friday afternoon, Washington faced three new felony criminal confinement charges, two felony counts of intimidation and misdemeanor counts of battery and interference with the reporting of a crime.

The new case all centers on allegations that he battered, unlawfully detained and threatened a female relative with a sledgehammer Tuesday at his Merrillville residence.

It may very well mean the end of his promised run for Lake County clerk in the 2018 election.

But it never should have gotten this far. He should have resigned a year ago.

Regular readers of my column will remember that a day after Washington pleaded guilty in the previous case, he reportedly was celebrating his reduction of charges — from felony to misdemeanor.

Had he been convicted of the felonies with which he initially was charged, he immediately would have been barred from holding elected office, under Indiana law.

A day after that misdemeanor plea, we would see Washington join Lake County Commissioner Mike Repay and other county leaders at a Merrillville restaurant to celebrate.

When Washington should have been resigning, or at the very least showing contrition, he was celebrating with friends and allies.

In hindsight, it's not all that surprising given our Region's political propensity for propping up criminals.

In Washington's case, a majority of the Lake County Council voted a month after his guilty plea to name Washington vice president of the council.

While many in our nation showed great concern for a growing "War on Women," Washington's colleagues propped him up in the wake of admitting he battered his wife.

Fortunately they came to their senses a few weeks later, and Washington's vice president status was rescinded. But that happened only after a rash of public scorn.

It never should have gotten that far.

It's not just some Region politicians who have propped up a convicted wife batterer in the year since Washington's guilty plea.

No, some social media circles, including a low-rent, clip-art political cartoon site, also have tried to prop up Washington as a people's champion, railing against the planned South Shore Line commuter rail extension.

That's right. Behold: Your champion is a convicted wife batterer who now is under arrest in yet another case of alleged domestic violence.

It's not merely a matter of Lake County reaping what it has sown. Plenty of Times readers and other sitting Region public officials have expressed outrage and disgust at Washington's misdeeds.

But too many sitting politicians — including Gary Councilwoman LaVetta Sparks-Wade — have allied themselves with Washington and steadfastly defended him when they should have been turning their backs.

For his part, Washington vehemently denied the most recent allegations against him when I contacted him Thursday night and Friday morning, just before Merrillville police took him into custody.

He'll get his chance to defend himself in court and already has retained the services of Region defense lawyer John Cantrell.

But it never should have gotten this far.

Now the county will be dragged through the mud again, in the name of Jamal Washington.

Police reports in the new case allege he grabbed a female family member by the neck, slammed her into the floor, threatened to strike her with a sledgehammer and detained her against her will for two hours earlier this week.

Those same reports indicate the alleged victim took a day before contacting police because she's also a county employee and feared Washington would pull strings to fire her.

These aren't the types of stories any of us want following our elected officials, especially in a county continually reeling from federal public corruption indictments and convictions of dozens of past elected leaders and their politically connected contractors.

It's yet another case that never should have gotten this far.

When will we learn enough to bar that phrase from our future vernacular?

Editorial Page Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marc.chase.9 or Twitter @nwi_MarcChase. The opinions are the writer's.

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