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Indicted Lake County sheriff barred from carrying handgun in public

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New Indiana law disarms indicted Lake County sheriff beginning July 1

Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez Jr. is prohibited from carrying a handgun in public, both on- and off-duty, beginning Friday, under a new Indiana law that bars all Hoosiers under indictment, including county sheriffs, from publicly carrying a handgun.

CROWN POINT — Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez Jr. will continue to be armed, and prepared to engage in law enforcement activities, notwithstanding a new state law taking effect Friday that bars Martinez from carrying a handgun in public.

The sheriff said his team has identified other firearms Martinez still may legally carry in public places, and Martinez said he will have one of those weapons on him "during special overnight joint operations and any other critical incident situation."

"The restriction deals with handguns only," Martinez said. "I will be capable of defending myself and the public from any potential threats which may arise."

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House Enrolled Act 1296, which authorizes all adult Hoosiers age 18 and older to carry a handgun in public without needing to obtain a state permit, ironically bars Lake County’s chief law enforcement officer from doing the same because Martinez was indicted in January on a felony charge of resisting law enforcement and misdemeanor reckless driving.

Martinez is accused of failing to stop while driving an unmarked, county-owned Jeep TrackHawk at up to 50 mph over the posted speed limit on Taft and Main streets in Crown Point and Merrillville in September as two Crown Point police officers chased him with their lights and sirens activated, records show.

The Democratic sheriff has pleaded not guilty to the charges. His trial tentatively is scheduled for August, though it likely will be delayed while the Indiana Court of Appeals considers tossing Martinez's criminal indictment.

Indiana's new permitless carry law denies the right to carry a handgun in public to individuals, like Martinez, under indictment; convicted felons; fugitives; some non-citizens; a person convicted of domestic violence, domestic battery or criminal stalking; a person under a restraining order; a person formally deemed dangerous or mentally defective; or a person dishonorably discharged from military service.

Previously, county sheriffs and other law enforcement personnel automatically were exempt from the state's handgun permit requirement.

But that exemption was deleted from the Indiana Code by the Republican-controlled General Assembly in March because no Hoosier adult now needs a permit to carry a handgun in public.

Martinez said he expects the new law will have little impact on most aspects of his job, including administration of the sheriff's department, operation of the county jail and care for its inmates, and executing civil process, among other responsibilities.

"What is unique in my situation is that I wear the uniform and equipment of a sworn police officer, which is how the public is accustomed to seeing me. I am a proactive sheriff who does not lead from behind a desk," Martinez said.

Martinez isn't the only Indiana sheriff set to be disarmed Friday. Clinton County Sheriff Rich Kelly, a Republican, was indicted in March, accused of official misconduct and conflict of interest for his alleged mishandling of hundreds of thousands of dollars of jail commissary and other funds.

An unknown number of local police officers throughout the state with misdemeanor domestic violence convictions also will lose their ability to carry a handgun in public under the law.

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As Martinez noted, the restriction only applies to prohibited persons carrying a handgun in public.

Both before and after Friday any person in Indiana legally entitled to own a long gun or rifle, including the AR-15 and other rifles previously classified as assault weapons, may carry it in public with few restrictions.

Under Indiana law, handguns and rifles remain prohibited at school buildings and court houses. In addition, businesses and homeowners retain the right to bar customers or guests from bringing a firearm into a building on their property.


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