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Medrano, Nicholas, L

Nicholas "Nick" Medrano

CROWN POINT — A Lake County police officer facing rape charges could return to uniform if he can avoid a felony conviction.

The Lake County Police Merit Board has dismissed disciplinary charges against Nicholas “Nick” Medrano this week on a technicality, said Chief William Paterson, second-in-command at the Lake County Sheriff's Department.

Paterson said Medrano must remain on administrative leave without pay while he awaits trial — now scheduled to begin April 30 — in Lake Criminal Court on felony rape, attempted rape, criminal confinement and sexual battery charges.

Medrano, 35, of Crown Point is pleading not guilty to allegations he raped a female co-worker between Jan. 10, 2013, and June 30, 2014.

Paterson said if Medrano is found guilty of a felony count, he would be removed from the force. "A police officer cannot have a felony conviction," Paterson said.

Paterson said Medrano would automatically be reinstated if he is acquitted or if the pending felony counts are reduced to misdemeanors.

Medrano has been fighting both the criminal charges filed by the Lake County prosecutor's office and civil disciplinary charges former Sheriff John Buncich filed last summer in an effort to fire Medrano regardless of the outcome of the criminal trial.

Paterson won his battle against the disciplinary charges Thursday when the five-member police merit board dropped them, ruling they were filed well beyond the deadline the sheriff's department always sets for bringing misconduct charges — within 90 days of a complaint.

Paterson said the sheriff's department first learned of the rape allegations in the fall of 2016.

Buncich called in the Indiana State Police to investigate, but took no immediate action to seek Medrano's termination.

The state police investigation resulted in a Lake County grand jury indicting Medrano on June 22, 2017. Buncich filed disciplinary charges against Medrano several days later — nine months after the complaint, Paterson said.

A jury convicted Buncich in August of bribery, removing him from office. A caucus of Lake County Democratic party committee members selected Sheriff Oscar Martinez Jr. to complete Buncich's term.

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Lake County reporter

Bill has reported in Lake County since 1972 after graduating from Indiana University. He has worked for The Times since 1997, covering the courts and local government during much of his tenure. Born and raised in New Albany, Ind., he is a native Hoosier.